MSU UARC is shutting down effective June 30, 2021. We are no longer taking on new projects.

Joystick for Accessible Voting Machines

Manufacturers of accessible voting machines have attempted to create a universal access method that includes a touch screen and a two-button rocker switch. Users without adequate dexterity to use a touch screen have no other choice but to use the rocker switch, which uses step scanning. This requires the user to press buttons hundreds of times to scan through the selections, which is a tedious and difficult task, and users become frustrated, fatigued, and can potentially be injured.

Through this project, we created an alternate input device which reduces the physical effort required to complete the voting process and can plug into the interface port on existing voting machines. This "Smart Voting Joystick" employs a dual-axis joystick with auditory and haptic feedback and three large buttons. It is designed to improve access to private and independent voting for individuals with motor- and dexterity-related disabilities.

The Smart Voting Joystick was designed using a collaborative and iterative process that brought together undergraduate Engineering students interested in designing for individuals with disabilities; rehabilitation engineers from the Michigan State University (MSU) Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD); and User Experience Researchers from MSU Usability/Accessibility Research and Consulting (UARC). Feedback from representative users, as well as best design practices from usability, accessibility, and engineering research literature, was incorporated throughout the design process.

Evaluation of the Smart Voting Joystick prototype was conducted at UARC, and sought to test the joystick's potential for improving access to voting by collecting qualitative and quantitative data on the usage of the joystick prototype by six participants with varying degrees of dexterity and motoric disabilities.

The usability evaluation demonstrated that the current iteration of the joystick largely met the needs of users with moderate dexterity impairments, and participants with more severe impairments strongly endorsed the use of a joystick, though modifications will be necessary to ensure that the prototype can be successfully used by this group. Adjusting specific features of the joystick, buttons, and user interface (including button debounce time and joystick size, shape, and feedback settings) would likely improve its usability for both groups; recommendations for enhancements are provided in the report based on the data analysis. During the usability evaluation researchers also identified and analyzed a variety of different usage strategies for interacting with the joystick, including pushing, pulling, grasping, striking, and flicking, and given the limited availability of research on this topic, the results represent a significant contribution to the literature.

In a separate sub-project, a team of engineering professors and teaching assistants, and professional staff from RCPD oversaw 60 students from an introductory design engineering class in 10-12 person teams. These teams created multiple options for quick mounting that would not only accommodate a joystick, but also tablets, trackballs, mice, buttons, and other input devices that could be used to make voting more accessible.

The Smart Voting Joystick has demonstrated tremendous potential to enable voters with physical impairments to vote privately and independently, without significant discomfort and within a reasonable amount of time. Initial reactions from the public have also been positive, with interest from election officials around the country. While further refinement could improve the joystick's usability for individuals with severe dexterity impairments, the current iteration of the prototype has strong potential for commercial development.

Read the full report on the ITIF Accessible Voting Technology Initiative website.

Swierenga, S. J., Ismirle, J., Jackson, J. E., Pierce, G. L., Decloniemaclennan, R., Mathew, A., & Blosser, S. (2013). Smart Joystick for Accessible Voting Machines (AVTI Working Paper #009). Washington, D.C.: The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Media coverage in MSUToday

Funded by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.


  • Jackson, J. E., Ismirle, J., Swierenga, S. J., Blosser, S. R., & Pierce, G. L. (2015). Joystick interaction strategies of individuals with dexterity impairments: Observations from the Smart Voting Joystick usability evaluation. In M. Antona & C. Stephanidis (Eds.), Lecture Notes in Computer Science: Vol. 9178. Universal Access in HCI: Access to the Human Environment and Culture (pp. 192-203). Switzerland: Springer International.