How Xbox Adaptive Controller Will Make Gaming More Accessible

The customizable product allows gamers with mobility limitations to craft their own personal device.
Courtesy of Microsoft

On Wednesday night, Microsoft unveiled its new Xbox Adaptive Controller for the Xbox One console, aimed at making gaming more accessible for those with disabilities and mobility limitations as part of their Gaming for Everyone initiative.

The device allows for individual customization through a series of peripheral attachments that allow gamers to cater the controls to their own specific comfort. 

For many, the current Xbox controller design (and those of other consoles' controllers like Nintendo's Switch and Sony's Playstation 4) presents a challenge to use as it was not designed for individuals with mobility impairments. The Adaptive Controller is a foot-long rectangular unit with a d-pad, menu and home buttons, the Xbox home icon button and two additional large black buttons that can be mapped to any function.

On its back are a series of jacks for input devices and various peripheral accessories, each of which can be mapped to a specific button, trigger or function on the Xbox controller.

"Everyone knew this was a product that Microsoft should make," Bryce Johnson, inclusive lead for product research and accessibility for Xbox, told Heat Vision.

The original inspiration for the Adaptive Controller came during 2015's Microsoft One-Week Hackathon, an event where employees develop new ideas and tackle issues with their products. Through a partnership with Warfighter Engaged, an allā€volunteer non-profit that modifies gaming controllers for severely wounded veterans through personally adapted devices, a prototype was put together that would eventually become the Adaptive Controller.

"We had been doing our own stuff for a couple of years before that, making custom adaptive items for combat veterans, and it was kind of a challenge for even the most basic changes, requiring basically taking a controller apart," Warfighter Engaged founder Ken Jones said. "Microsoft was thinking along the same lines. It was really just perfect timing."

As development on the project went on, Microsoft began working with other foundations aimed at making gaming more accessible such as AbleGamers, SpecialEffect, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Craig Hospital, a Denver-area rehabilitation center for spinal cord and brain injuries.

While third-party manufacturers have created more accessible peripheral controllers in the past, Microsoft is the first of the major gaming publishers to make a first-party offering. 

"I think we're always open to exploring new things," Johnson said of Microsoft developing their own peripherals for the Adaptive Controller. "Right now, I think the challenge is that there is a super large ecosystem of devices that we intentionally supported as part of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and we want people to go out and find that vast array of toggles, buttons, etc. and have those work with that device." 

The Xbox Adaptive Controller will be available for $99.99 later this year.

Says Jones: "I think the disabled community is seen as relatively small, so for a big company like Microsoft to put money behind this is a game-changer. I think they’ll see very soon just how big this community is."