Xbox breaches disability bar­rier

Adap­tive Con­troller al­lows ev­ery­body to play.

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Eli Blu­men­thal

Microsoft is in­tro­duc­ing a new kind of con­troller to al­low gamers with dis­abil­i­ties to play Xbox and PC games in what­ever way works best for them.

Called the Xbox Adap­tive Con­troller, the new $99.99 de­vice looks and feels dif­fer­ent from the stan­dard gam­ing re­motes de­signed for two-handed use. There are no di­rec­tional pads, col­or­ful A/B/X/Y but­tons or trig­gers on this con­troller. In­stead, the re­mote is a white slab with two large black but­tons, two USB ports and a bevy of 3.5mm ac­ces­si­bil­ity ports on the back.

All of this is de­signed to al­low gamers to cus­tom­ize the con­troller to ex­actly what they need in or­der to play in the way most com­fort­able to them. It can be placed on the floor to al­low gamers to use the two but­tons with their feet and fea­tures screws on the bot­tom for mount­ing onto wheel­chairs or ta­bles. The de­vice, to be re­leased later this year, can be charged through its USB-C port.

“In the U.S. we es­ti­mate that 14% of Xbox One gamers have a tem­po­rary mo­bil­ity lim­i­ta­tion and that 8% of gamers have a per­ma­nent mo­bil­ity lim­i­ta­tion,” said Navin Ku­mar, di­rec­tor of prod­uct mar­ket­ing for Xbox ac­ces­sories. “We felt like we needed to do more for this au­di­ence.”

For Steven Spohn, a vol­un­teer who also serves as chief op­er­a­tions of­fi­cer of Washington, D.C.-based AbleGamers, the creation of the Adap­tive Con­troller pre­sents a pos­si­ble game-changer.

The non-profit pre­vi­ously de­vel­oped its own cus­tom accessible con­troller for the Xbox that it gave away to those who needed it. That cus­tom con­troller, op­ti­mized to an in­di­vid­ual’s needs, would of­ten cost hundreds of dol­lars to cre­ate, sig­nif­i­cantly more than Microsoft’s target price.

The Adap­tive Con­troller “will be in what we like to call the ‘pre­sents range,’ ” Spohn says. “This thing plus a cou­ple of switches will be in the range where ba­si­cally, with friends and fam­ily help, you can al­ways raise enough money to be able to af­ford the whole de­vice.”

The Adap­tive Con­troller, de­vel­oped out of an in­ter­nal Microsoft hackathon in 2015, uses the 3.5mm stan­dard for ac­ces­si­bil­ity pe­riph­er­als. It can work with a range of avail­able ac­ces­sories in­clud­ing bite switches, sin­gle-handed joy­sticks and foot ped­als (ac­ces­sories are sold sep­a­rately from the con­troller). Each slot on the back is la­beled for its cor­re­spond­ing tra­di­tional but­ton, mak­ing set­ting up the con­troller as sim­ple as “plug and play.”

Since it is seen by the Xbox as a reg­u­lar con­troller, gamers can play any Xbox One game just as they would with the tra­di­tional re­mote. Like the reg­u­lar con­troller, there is also a head­phone jack so gamers can trash-talk friends and com­peti­tors on­line. “Every­thing that a stan­dard con­troller can do, this con­troller can do,” Ku­mar says.

Microsoft part­nered with a num­ber of or­ga­ni­za­tions while de­vel­op­ing the Adap­tive Con­troller, in­clud­ing The AbleGamers Char­ity, The Cere­bral Palsy Foun­da­tion, Spe­cialEf­fect, Warfighter En­gaged and Craig Hos­pi­tal to en­sure it was prop­erly op­ti­mized.

Spohn’s group has helped beta test the con­troller in re­cent months, play­ing var­i­ous Xbox games in­clud­ing Sea of Thieves and Fort­nite. Spohn — who suf­fers from spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy, a dis­ease that af­fects mus­cle move­ment and phys­i­cal strength — tested the con­troller with the PC us­ing ul­tra­light switches that re­quire lit­tle phys­i­cal pres­sure to ac­ti­vate.

“When a com­pany as big as Microsoft starts in­tro­duc­ing de­vices like the Xbox Adap­tive Con­troller ... it gives me an­other tool to do my work,” Spohn says. “The fact they are able to mass pro­duce this de­vice and make it very af­ford­able for the av­er­age gamer is just amaz­ing.”



The Xbox Adap­tive Con­troller, $99.99 when re­leased later this year, with var­i­ous ac­ces­sories plugged in.

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