Microsoft, Israel’s Alyn adapt Xbox to help kids with disabilities get treatment

Yaron Galitzky, general manager of Microsoft Accessories, spends a day tweaking the Xbox Adaptive Controller to suit the needs of rehab hospital kids

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Microsoft's Yaron Galitzky, right to left, with 12-year old Lina, Dr. Maurit Beeri, Director General of ALYN Hospital, and Arie Yekel-Melamed, who manages the hospital’s innovation initiatives (Courtesy)
Microsoft's Yaron Galitzky, right to left, with 12-year old Lina, Dr. Maurit Beeri, Director General of ALYN Hospital, and Arie Yekel-Melamed, who manages the hospital’s innovation initiatives (Courtesy)

Twelve-year-old Lina and 10-year old Yael, both wheelchair-bound due to a severe muscular condition that leads to loss of muscle function, were two of the six patients of Israel’s Alyn Hospital who recently got a specially designed Xbox from Microsoft that can help them with their treatments.

The Jerusalem children’s rehab hospital has often teamed up with startups and tech firms to promote assistive technologies, innovation, and accessible services for children who live with a wide range of disabilities. The tech firms provide the technical knowhow, while the hospital staff and patients outline the needs.

As part of this effort, the hospital approached a team at Microsoft that is responsible for the development of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which makes Microsoft’s gaming console accessible for gamers with limited mobility. They asked them to adapt the controller to the needs of Alyn patients, to help them with their treatment and enable remote treatment for patients who have trouble showing up in person due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Microsoft’s Yaron Galitzky, left, with one of Alyn’s patients playing with the Xbox gaming console (Courtesy)

The Microsoft Israel research and development team got to work, and this week Yaron Galitzky, who is responsible for the Xbox Adaptive Controller development, visited the hospital and brought with him six packages that he donated to the Alyn children. Each package contained an Xbox, an adaptive controller, a laptop, a subscription for Xbox game packages, Microsoft Office, and a variety of games and creative programs.

Galitzky met with Dr. Maurit Beeri, director general of Alyn Hospital, and Arie Yekel-Melamed, who manages the hospital’s innovation initiatives.

Together, they spent the day going from one hospital bed to the next to install the systems and adapt the controllers to each child’s needs, assisted by one of Alyn’s occupational therapists.

Galitzky is general manager of Microsoft Accessories and responsible for the development of the Xbox Adaptive Controller. The controllers are already employed by Alyn as part of the virtual reality and gaming programs that it uses to help advance the rehabilitation of its patients.

“These are children who have disabilities but whose cognition is good,” Arie Yekel-Melamed, the hospital’s innovation manager, told The Times of Israel in a phone interview. “They are clever children who are caught in their bodies with a variety of disabilities.”

Alyn uses advanced gaming as part of its therapy with the children, he said, but children who were isolated in the hospital wards or at home because of coronavirus restrictions had no access to these tools — or had to compete at home with their siblings to get access to a laptop.

“The idea was to bring some joy, exercise and some therapy to these children,” he said.  “You should have seen the light in their eyes…it was amazing.”

The hospital, he added, has worked together with tech firms and Microsoft to spearhead the  development of products that improve rehabilitation, quality of life, and daily inclusion for children with disabilities. Microsoft Israel’s contribution will be “a role model for startups,” as it promotes inclusive design to make it possible for products to be used by people with disabilities.

“The use of gaming in rehabilitation is more and more common, incorporating physical components relating to coordination and hand function, as well as mental and social aspects — the moment a child plays, they are no different from anyone else,” said Microsoft’s Galitzky in the statement. “When they play and enjoy themselves, they build the confidence that they can do other things.”

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