Flash Says…

A guide to the Wii Fit for disabled people: Part 1 – General information

Posted on: 2011-02-02

I received a Wii Fit for Christmas – lucky me! But I’m disabled with a mobility difficulty. I was wary – would I be able to get to grips with the game? There was no option but to dive straight in.

I’d considered buying a Wii Fit in the past, but couldn’t find any information online other than short uninformed discussions on messageboards or this brief article which dismissively says it’s “not suitable for those in wheelchairs or with otherwise limited lower body mobility”. Having been using the Wii Fit for a month now, I disagree with that statement (within limitations of course). I feel it’s time to provide the information I wish I’d had – along with info for people with different impairments, as far as possible. So, here’s a guide to using the Wii Fit with a disability.

Although I’ll be considering a range of needs and limitations, I should declare my own: joint hypermobility meaning I have to be careful of my knees and wrists; “the more I do, the worse I am” which means I might be able to use the Wii Fit, but need to consider any additional pain or instability the following day. I am also unable to kneel, and find it very hard to stand on one leg or crouch down. Therefore, there are plenty of activities I haven’t been able to try – but many more which I could do with ease.

This will be a 2 part article, in order to provide a necessary level of depth.
Firstly: General information
Secondly: Information for specific impairments

I must start by saying that there ARE a few user groups who won’t be able to use the Wii Fit, in my opinion;

  • those who cannot stand still for 5-10 seconds, which you need to do before each game (if I lift my hand I am told to “keep still!”);
  • those who cannot see, because nearly every game has visual prompts with no audio equivalent;
  • and those who cannot move their torso or any of their limbs, as you need to be able to at least wriggle and lean from side to side, or hold a remote control.

Other than that, I reckon you’ll be able to get something out of using the Wii Fit – please leave a comment to let me know how you get on!

The Wii Fit system comprises a balance board (not the wobbly thing that you’d use during physiotherapy but a solid, flat plastic item) which measures 48cm by 30cm, and 6cm high, meaning that it’s not too difficult to step up onto it. It’s essentially a very clever weighing scale, judging where your weight is placed and how you move. There’s a remote control which is used to start the activities and to command aspects in some of the games… and a nunchuk which is used when it’s necessary to provide controls for both hands.

When starting the game, you must navigate to the Plaza and pick out your character, using the remote control. Then you can weigh in if you wish – your BMI is displayed which may of course not translate height to weight appropriately for people who have differently proportioned bodies, or missing limbs, etc. Although BMI is shown on the initial graph you can flick to a chart of weight, and if you wish to set a goal this is done in terms of weight rather than BMI.

The main part of Wii Fit is the training section which comprises 4 categories (yoga, muscle exercises, aerobics, and balance games) as well as a fifth category exclusive to Wii Fit Plus which includes extra aerobic and balance activities, most of which are great fun. Examples of activities in each section include:

  • Yoga – Deep breathing, spine extension, and shoulder stand (18 exercises)
  • Strength Training – Sideways leg lift, lunge, rowing squat (18 exercises)
  • Aerobics – Hula hoop, step basics, rhythm boxing (9 games)
  • Balance Games – Ski jump, balance bubble, snowboard slalom (9 games)
  • Training Plus – Rhythm kung fu, snowball fight, driving range (15 games)

There are four main ways in which you need to move on the balance board in order to manoeuvre during the games:

  • stepping on and off (used in step aerobics, boxing and various strength and yoga exercises)
  • stepping on the board (e.g. in cycling, obstacle course, rhythm parade)
  • “jump” – this means to bend and straighten the legs (in ski jump, skateboard arena, obstacle course)
  • leaning in four directions – left, right, forward and back (e.g. in hula hoop, perfect 10, and heading a football)

So whatever your impairment, you will need to find a way of adapting this so that you can shift your weight on and off, and in different directions, to simulate the movement the board is expecting. This is not as hard as you might think; watch my video to see three ways that you could “step on the board” and “jump” – both standing and sitting on the board, and taking some of your weight on a seat (click on the still image to view the video). With a bit of imagination, most things are possible even with a mobility impairment. Whichever manner you choose to move your body, you’ll need to be able to “step on” the board in the same manner before each game, or it won’t detect your movement accurately.

There is another aspect to some games – that of using the remote control, and sometimes you hold the remote in one hand and a nunchuk in the other. Quite a few games make use of the remote – you use it to steer in cycling, to fire snowballs, and to hit golf balls, whereas you will need both remote and nunchuk for boxing and kung fu style games. However, if you are unable to hold the remote, or to use the nunchuk as well, there are still plenty of games which do not require you to use your hands or arms. One game, “Bullseye birdseye” encourages the user to flap their arms in order to make their character fly, but you can bend and extend your legs to get the same effect. However, you do need to operate the remote (by directing it or pressing buttons) to select games, and to press the A button in order to start each game. It would be possible to start games by pressing the remote with your feet although you couldn’t use the remote to play games in that manner, because you would need your feet to move in other ways at the same time.

The Wii Fit aims to keep your interest from day to day in various ways. The obvious way is that you might weigh in and try to chart your weight loss. There are also hi-score tables for most activities, even the yoga and strength training exercises – the game probably assumes you will get fitter and beat your hi scores making it continually appealing, but I’ve reached my physical limits in many games. I can do them again as part of an exercise routine but once I’ve reached my limit there is no way I can beat my score; in fact it’s frustrating especially if another user has set a top score you have no hope of reaching! However there are so many different activities, many of which contain a range of difficulty levels, that it seems there is always a variety of activities to try, no matter which bit of you is hurting or refusing to co-operate on any given day.

That concludes the first part of the guide to the Wii Fit for disabled people, but do read part 2 – information for specific impairments – and please bear in mind that I am just offering advice as a user. Before buying the Wii Fit, please try it in a shop such as Toys R Us, or even better at a friend’s house, where you will have the chance to see how you get on and how your body feels the next day. Enjoy “Wii Fitting”!

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5 Responses to "A guide to the Wii Fit for disabled people: Part 1 – General information"

Thankyou for sharing your experiences of using the Wii Fit console. I have been thinking of buying one but have never been sure how usable this would be due to my own disabilities. This has been really helpful.
Thanks again :D)

Hi Flash,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for this information you are sharing. My mother is disabled for about 4 years now. She can’t walk much. The doctor gave her something to put in her feet, it turns like a bicycle. This helped a little but was painfull.

Then my kids got a Wii console and this gave me the idea to help my mother excercising. And it helps. She is moving more by herself and the pain is very much less.

She won’t be an athletic anymore, but the progression is wonderfull! Even if it is a little bit.

Thank you so much for this information. I would never have thought of it myself!

Irene

THANK YOU! This is very helpful and heartwarming to discover! I am a special education teacher, kindergarten through 2nd, and my husband is an Adaptive PE teacher. We are trying to create a joint program for our district which allows for more opportunities for our students. I have been collecting data and researching the wiiFit world for a while now and just stumbled upon your blog. What a gift! My students will be so happy to try something new…thank you, from me, my husband, and all our amazing students!

Very interesting concept… I guess there is some hope for video games being useful for something after all.

I will have a Wii Fit for Christmas this year,wahaha.good luck,guy!

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