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A new Xbox controller to make gaming accessible to more people with disabilities (microsoft.com)
294 points by lamchob 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments

Disabilities may be some sort of a starting point, but this sort of product/feature doesn't necessarily begin and end there.

A controller is a UI paradigm, like the keyboard & mouse "desktop" paradigm. Serving a userbase that can't use a standard UI will lead to invention of new ones. This could easily lead to mass market products/features that people will want regardless of disabilities.

Particularly interesting (to me) are paradigms being developed for the blind, because they can't rely on displays. This is the same sort of problem as amazon echo, driving mode phones UIs and other products that need paradigms.

The key though, the key is that blind people are a "captive" market. They can't just use the display UI every time the voice UI sucks. This gives developer the opportunity to keep improving it until the number of use cases where voice UIs work better than display gets big enough.

> Everyone has abilities, and limits to those abilities. Designing for people with permanent disabilities actually results in designs that benefit people universally. Constraints are a beautiful thing.


I was thinking how awesome it is when developers think of all sorts of players from the very start by ensuring that their entire game, game system, and controller systems are configured for full customization from the start.

It's something that I think every dev, that is capable, should be striving to do in everything they can (even outside of gaming specifically) but as you indicated above it's really awesome for EVERY kind of person, even if I'm not differently abled at all and all I want to do is swap shoot and reload's buttons because of my own personal (even it it's stupid and/or annoying) preference.

One of the things that Microsoft's Inclusive Design efforts have made really usefully clear is that everyone is "differently abled" circumstantially/over-the-course of a day.

It's a silly example: but if I'm eating a sandwich one hand and trying to use a computer, in that moment I'm a one-handed computer user, and can benefit from many of the same one-handed benefits of someone using a computer one-handed for more permanent reasons.

But as silly as that example is, there are so many tiny moments in your day like that that maybe you dismiss them or you don't appreciate how differently abled you are at different points in the day.

It's a bit like thinking through the classic riddle of the sphinx ("what creature walks on four legs in the morning, two during the day, and three in the evening?"). Our "ableness" is never a static constant, and its so useful to think of all the more transient states we live in every day. The more we include everyone, sometimes the better we include ourselves, too.

True, you are right and I've never thought of it that way. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and surely without everyone being "classified" as something we are all incapable or terrible at doing certain things while we are tremendous at others. It's like the fish climbing a tree versus certain types of animals swimming. I love that saying. If you test them at what they were meant to do they'll pass with flying colors. Problem is it's impossible to classify humans in such a visual / species type of way. We are too indistinguishable.

I can only use one hand. I use to play video games all of the time but once game controllers started requiring two hands and shoulder buttons, I couldn't play most games. I could play some games with fighting controllers (https://www.amazon.com/HORI-Fighting-Commander-Officially-Li...)

I also tried one of these - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sony-Playstation-handed-Dragon-cont... - but could never get the hang of it.

I might try this. My son is very into video games and I would love to play with him again. The only games that I played with him when he was younger were fighting games like Tekken and Soul Calibur and a few simple beat em up games but the games he plays now are too complicated to play with one hand.


I'm still trying to figure out after watching the videos, how this works with one hand. They showed a guy who had cerebral palsy that affected his right side but they never went into details about how he adapts it.

Maybe they were just expecting the target market to know about assistive technologies? I've never used any so I don't know anything about them.

Fwiw, I'm mid build of a controller for a friend with one hand.

I'm riffing off the Ben Heck design https://www.benheck.com/controllers/ but I'm mounting the entire xbox controller on a $15 joystick and then wiring the analog 3dof sensor from the joystick into the xbox controller. So, with one hand, you have access to one origina thumbstick and tilt the entire controller to actuate the other thumbstick.

I've been eagerly awaiting this device from xbox. While it is great, it's just a breakout box, you still need to setup your inputs.

As a side note, are you aware of the class of devices such as the xim4 or the Venom X which comes with a mouse & nunchuck?

https://www.amazon.com/Tuact-Venom-Controller-Windows-PlaySt... (works with xbox)

The "main" control pad doesn't seem like necessarily the most important thing: the most important thing is that on the back of the controller, there's a whole row of ports that you can use to plug in standard assitive devices into (buttons, pedals, sticks, whatever) to act as controller inputs. The idea is that it should be as flexible as possible to adapt to everyone's needs. I'm sure you would be able to find a solution for the games you want to play.

To hopefully give some encouragement: you can for sure play all modern games on a game controller with only a single hand, but it might take time to learn how to do so. There is a speed runner (who holds at least one world record) that has a disability preventing him from using more than one hand when gaming, and he regularly used modern controllers. You can see his Twitter here: https://mobile.twitter.com/halfcoordinated and can easily look up recordings of him playing (with a camera focused on his hand) at games done quick. I recommend his Vanquish run.

Consider PC gaming. Lots of games work perfectly well with just the mouse.

And there are lots of options in mouse selection, MMO mice can have dozens of buttons, the Roccat Nyth even allows replacing of the side-buttons with custom molds.

Also MMO keyboards / controllers and one-handed keyboards (like the Maltron)

I couldn't bring myself to pay $479 for a keyboard and then have to relearn how to type after spending close to forty years typing with one hand on a regular QWERTY keyboard. Last time I checked, I can type at about 50 wpm but since most of my typing is coding, as long as my typing speed can keep up with my thinking speed (with autocomplete), it's not the bottleneck.

This is my favorite keyboard:


I can reach from the Q to the P with one hand and can touch type on it.


That goes into the things you can plug in to the back and usb, looks really flexible

Ive done 3D printing for Able Gamers, a group looking to help provide assistive technology to those in need. I recommend check them out and if you have a 3d printer and want to help, send them an email.

check out thingiverse.com for freely available designs.


You don't mention which hand so I'll assume left (everything is made for right handers apparently)

A few comments below suggest an mmo mouse. I found a left hand version "Razer Naga left handed mmo ergonomic mouse", however I can't find where to buy it. Right handed MMO mice are more common and have different thumb setups. "Razer Naga Hex V2" is a good example.

Given a mouse you use an adapter to play on Xbox[1]

Looking at game pads I found "Fang Gamepad by Ideazon" which is ambidextrous. Unfortunately I can't vouch for console compatibility which limits gaming to mostly PC. [1][https://dotesports.com/hardware/news/best-xbox-one-keyboard-...]

Out of interest, have you heard of or tried this thing you can 3d print for the Switch? https://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2017/8/16/16155858/3...

There is also a personal angle to Microsoft involvement with these type of initiatives. The CEO has two children with disabilities and it looks like he is pushing for an inclusive company more than any other CEO. There is also Gobabygo which is an open source organization that modifies toy cars for children with disabilities http://sites.udel.edu/gobabygo/

> the CEO has two children with disabilities

Interesting video with Nadella discussing this:


“Necessity is the mother of invention”

I work on accessibility. Apple has always been the recognized leader.

Their eyes are not always on the ball though. How is the touchbar working out for accessibility?

I think we all know that, but that doesn't necessarily mean Satya isn't putting in the effort. Apple has kept accessibility in mind for a lot long than he has been CEO of Microsoft.

Accessibility is a much harder problem for the Windows and Android platforms, because they're dealing with a bigger and more open ecosystem with a lot of legacy baggage. Apple's very tight APIs make it much easier for software to be accessible by default.

I know you're talking about windows, but remember this controller is targetted at xbox, which is even more locked down than any of Apple's platforms.

This controller is targeted at gaming on both Xbox and Windows. (Because Xbox is Windows, locked down or not, and Xbox design is Windows 10 design, and all Xbox One controllers are Windows 10 controllers.)

This is amazing. Microsoft frequently does things that offer amazing new ways of interfacing AND are hackable enough to have flexible applications. I have fond memories of owning and "hacking" the Kinect and connecting it to my PC, to develop custom code to control media playback and stuff. I never owned one, but the Surface also looked quite unique.

However, I feel these products don't reach the level of "lovability" other such products enjoy. I wonder if this is an execution or PR problem?

Either way, hope the Adaptive Controller enables a lot of people to enjoy video games and we see some interesting unconventional applications of it soon.

Mostly because the majority of users aren't interested in hackability of devices.

Kinect didn't have much in the way of software, and the OTS stuff was clunky. It also followed on after the Wii, which also featured clunky software, also had tremendous 1st party support to keep it viable.

All of the four controllers shown seem to be great, but it's funny that the joystick is basically just the Wii nunchuck. That's not a dig against Microsoft, I suspect Nintendo just really hit it out of the park with their Wii-mote design and that there isn't much else to improve.

I'm left-handed, and I remember realising that without thinking, I had switched to using my right hand for the analog joystick instead of the left one. This was months after I got a Wii - it was so natural that I hadn't even noticed. I don't recall anyone ever giving Nintendo credit for this, but their nunchuck-controller was pretty much the first mainstream controller for a console that was fully ambidextrous.

>the first mainstream controller for a console that was fully ambidextrous.

While it's not a console as such, the Atari Lynx in the 1990s could be flipped over so that the joypad was on the other side.


This is a very heart warming development for me.

My dad has one hand, and only one finger on the hand he does have. He LOVED playing Atari 2600 and NES when I was a kid and I have very fond memories of playing games with him.

After the SNES though he completely stopped playing games out of frustration, angry about why they needed so many buttons. I don’t think he ever even attempted to play our N64, let alone later consoles.

I really hope the price point is accessible, I’d love to play games with my dad again.

> I don’t think he ever even attempted to play our N64

Understandable, since the n64 controller was designed for people with 3 hands.

Had you looked at http://www.ablegamers.org/ ? They can help to select right assistive technology for your dad.

Outside of this controller, if you and your dad have any interest in fighting games, you could check out Dive Kick - it's a two button fighting game, and they sell (sold?) a special controller with only two buttons.

You may want to let him try some "simple" games : things like super hexagon or one finger death punch require only 2 keys. And some reflexes.

I recently learned two XBox controllers can function as one, an ease of access feature called Copilot.


It's mentioned in this article, as well, because Copilot was partly built to enable someone with one of these Adaptive Controllers to keep using the Xbox controller inputs they are comfortable with and extend them with this controller for the more uncomfortable ones. Then the designers realized there are plenty of other reasons people might want to pair controllers and there was no reason not to release it as a general feature for everyone.

This controller is going to be wonderful for far more than just disabled people, I can't wait to use it for more interactive possibilities.

Good products "for people with disabilities" are often just good products full stop.

Take for example Good Grips[1], a brand of cookware and kitchen tools. Initially designed as specifically for the elderly and people who otherwise have trouble gripping conventional kitchen utensils, it's become a bestselling brand in its own right (I own several things) because the products are just that much more ergonomic and sturdy than anything else.

[1]: https://www.oxouk.com/

Some other recent HN article did an interesting presentation on the reason so many Infomercials for products seem so weird is that the only way to sell some of these products designed specifically to help the differently enabled have to be sold as if they were for particularly lazy fully capable humans. In order to try to get the product to market at all, they have to market to the weird/lazy/strange mainstream target market you see in Infomercial pitches, and often you miss that little bit of "originally built to help my elderly friends or invented to help someone after a stroke".

Having all the button connections over 3.5mm jacks is a super cool idea.


That's incredible :)

It's USB, so this is going to end up being used for far more than gaming.

Here, let me save you $50. It's the same principle, just a USB breakout box. But one better - capacitive input instead of just switches (of course, switches work too)


Except that doesn't work with an Xbox.

There are definitely dozens of existing solutions for PC use, but the console world has long been protective of their gamepads and generally don't allow arbitrary custom devices to be connected unless they're built by hacking up a "certified" device.

This is, to my knowledge, the first time any major console has officially supported custom input devices. It's annoying that it requires a proprietary bridge device rather than just getting rid of their artificial limits on HID input devices that work fine on Windows 10 on their Windows 10 powered appliance, but I guess it is still progress.

The PS3 worked with standard USB HID gamepads out of the box. Too bad Sony dropped this support in the PS4. Oddly though Sony has allowed developers to ship their own custom USB HID drivers in PS4 games, which some fighting games have done to allow people to use their old PS3 fight sticks.

It's not just a USB breakout box. On the back of it, is has standard inputs for assistive devices that map directly to Xbox controller buttons, as well as settings for different input profiles. $100 is a totally reasonable prize, especially in this market.

You're right. I wrongly assumed this had 2 capacitive controllers (like a steam controller) on the top not just 2 massive buttons.

It's good to see people working on stuff, this type of inclusive development really makes me excited!


I had an online acquaintance who I practiced with in a fighting game called Blazblue. Said friend was also a martial-artist who also did live-steel fights. Dangerous, yes, but apparently there were rules about what weapons you could bring in, "first blood" and other such rules to try and keep things non-deadly.

Anyway, one of his opponents used poison as his weapon, and now his hands were permanently F'd up due to that one poison fight.

Long story short: I didn't see him online much after that. Its difficult for disabled people to get controllers that work well for them.

And its not just arbitrary fights where people can lose the fine motor control of their hands. I know people who lost fine control after a bad car accident. (Fortunately, this one was temporary and after about a year, she got most of her motor control back into her hands).

So any research into allowing injured people to better play video games (a hobby I'm very much like), is a win in my eyes. I've got at least two people who've I've personally met who would benefit. Even with today's advanced medicine, its not guaranteed that motor control will return back to your hands if you are injured.

And injuries can really happen to anybody.

It doesn't even have to be injories; a stroke can easily cause pretty much unpredictable amounts of fine motor control loss in one hand or the other, and that can happen to anyone at any time.

When I was in junior high or highschool I made an SNES controller for my friend's mom who had limited hand movement due to a stroke. I made her a joystick from a piece of PVC pipe, two plastic spools, and a plastic case about the size of a cigar box for the base. The way the mechanism worked was I used strips of packing foam to center the PVC pipe inside the hole in the spools, and mounted 4 microswitches in a collar facing the PVC pipe. Instead of a big movement like a traditional joystick, it required only 1/8 inch "twitch" movements to close the microswitches, but was surprisingly precise & responsive considering it was made out of scraps and hot glue. (But then again I designed it to work with the limits of the materials I had access to, and "tuned" the placement of the switches as I built up the device.)

Awesome. Which games did she like?

I can't remember well now, but I think she mainly played Super Mario World, and perhaps an SNES racing game. I never got the chance to actually play with/against her, but my friend told me that she did use it.

as someone with a visual impairment I am always amazed at how little we talk/learn about accessibility and its lack of inclusion in the tests of new products.

I like this "inclusive desing" term better though. (even though its the method to achieve accessibility)

It's market optimization. 99% of any new product's potential initial userbase does not have accessibility issues. Especially startups need to focus on getting the highest return on investment initially, before proceeding to smaller groups of potential customers. This is also why most new products are launched in the US first - huge market, no borders - instead of Europe where people have to deal with a few dozen languages and local laws.

Really great move by Microsoft. People often worry for things like IE support but people with disabilities often falls between the chairs.

I find it amazing that Microsoft can be doing this sort of thing, mean while, at the windows team they decided to change that windows taskbar sound control tool so that you now need to do “start->control panel->soundoptions” to change your primary source, rather than just right clicking the damn icon. One in a long range of terrible designs for windows.

How can a company simultaneously be so great and so terrible at usability?

Not sure what you mean, but you can change your primary audio source by clicking the right corner arrow on the little window that pops out when you click the speaker icon. EDIT: PIC https://www.howtogeek.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/img_57d...

Also this literally doesn't have anything to do with the subject of this thread.

Hmm, well I guess my stuff is broken, because I only have the option to buy a headset when I do that - disabled btw.

But then, my windows still keeps turning down the brightness automatically unless I reboot after logging on the first time, so maybe it’s just a little incompatibility with my old ass laptop.

Yep. They actually made it MUCH easier to change your default audio source in Windows 10 (not sure which particular release this change came in).

From working with their products all the time, my suspicion is that there's some really great people working on a lot of the lower level stuff like the kernel, driver model, CLR, etc, but they're surrounded by an ocean of morons who can't even make a menu work reliably and a lot of executives who really wish the desktop was a smartphone.

In the same vein though, the Windows team added in an Eye Control accessibility option [0] allowing users to control the OS with just their eyes. So the answer here would just be that the teams are so large that they can make phenomenal decisions and also plenty of bad ones.

[0] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/garage/wall-of-fame/eye-cont...

By being big.

Apple is big, their usability hasn’t gone to shit.

Can we swap "disabled people" for "people with disabilities" please?

I'm okay calling myself a disabled person, personally. I have some pretty severe disabilities, in spite of which I stay employed and productive. I find identifying as disabled empowering, since it acknowledges the constant effort I put into my health and mobility.

I respect that others don't like the phrase "disabled people," since it's something they have rather than something they are. But there's not a consensus on what phrase to use.

I think it's entirety valid to be happy with the label "disabled" and to embrace that.

My background is as a carer for children with intellectual disabilities, and I'm always disappointed when the first thing somebody wants to know about a kid is their diagnosis. I'd much rather tell you that Terry likes Football than tell you he has Autism. People often get fixated on the disability however.

Person-first language, in my experience, encourages people to see and think about the person before they see the disability. It encourages then to consider that perhaps John is stroppy because he's a moody teenager, rather than adding it's being he has Autism.

Ditto. "People with disabilities" feels, to me, very forced and as a result stands out, whereas "disabled people" feels like a natural way to phrase it.

I don't feel that's actually more politically correct though. Grammatically different, maybe.

"people with disabilities" was ~1990s "people-centered-language" linguistic trend. The current trend is "disability pride", not being ashamed of being called "disabled"

That's roughly when the idea started, but I think it's untrue to say it's a trend that has been replaced. The CDC and AMA for example have policy in favour of person-first language.

There is some, perhaps splotchy, evidence that person-first language reduces stigma (e.g. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01899.x) consistent with the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity).

No, passive voice is poor style.

And there's no guarantee it will last long before someone decides to be offended by that too.

It looks like the passive voice is not something that is well understood by you.

What was done by you there has been seen by me.

The original title says “people with a broad range of disabilities” so I agree with you, but only for that reason. I can’t stand the way that HN changes titles.

Otherwise, I’m not going to tiptoe around people and change my speech patterns because they might be offended by something that meant no offense to them.

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