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Why the Xbox Adaptive Controller Is a Game-Changer for People With Disabilities

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What a difference a decade makes.

On Christmas morning 2010, I couldn’t wait to give my son a brand new product: the Xbox Kinect. Other fathers may have also felt that way, but probably not this strongly, because my son has severe cerebral palsy with lots of spasticity and fluctuating tone. He uses a power wheelchair to get around and an iPad to speak. So I couldn’t wait because he couldn’t wait. He had read all about this new marvel that was going to allow him to play Xbox games without a controller – which he couldn’t access. He was actually going to play Xbox games just by waving his arms! It was going to be a biiiiiiig moment.

Well, it was going to be a big moment; until it wasn’t. The Kinect couldn’t even detect Tom’s body in his wheelchair. It couldn’t see his movements, so he couldn’t even get started.

That Christmas morning we were Scrooged.

If you’re a parent of a child with disabilities – heck, if you’re a parent period – you know how it feels to see your child deeply disappointed. Or if you don’t… let me tell you. It feels like falling into an endless tar pit: dark, immobilizing, slowly sinking, and having no idea how to get out.

Which takes me to this morning, 2,810 days after that last one: a morning when Microsoft started shipping the Xbox Adaptive Controller. The best words I can use to convey my feelings are, “Wow! It feels like Christmas!”

The Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC) is a super cool piece of hardware created by Microsoft (not a small company, but Microsoft!) that’s specifically designed to allow people with a wide range of physical disabilities to access game commands and play video games alone and with friends – in short, to have fun! Microsoft is acknowledging and responding to the fact that people with disabilities really want to play Xbox games – and they are now going to make sure it can happen.

It’s all the more special because the Cerebral Palsy Foundation has had a role in this process. From our first conversations with Microsoft nearly five years ago, we’ve been able to share our experience and provide insights throughout the entire development process. The relationship has been wildly rewarding, to know we have had input into the form factor and user experience of XAC.

In fact, this month CPF is also launching user profiles to help those with disabilities choose the most effective switches and setups to meet their specific physical challenges. It’s part of the magic of getting to work with the fabulous folks behind this wonderful addition to our world.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller has so much packed into it. It offers two super large buttons for key actions and commands, a low profile that doesn’t get in the way of engagement, and jacks in the back which allow one to put in all sorts of accessible inputs: switches, buttons, toggles, joysticks and so on. All those things sound familiar if you have disabilities – but if you don’t, you’re probably saying, “Huh?”

That’s the point, of course. The physical access XAC provides isn’t something everyone needs. But anyone who does need it can now have it. What a change! The gamer’s passion which so many have embraced has until now eluded many people with physical disabilities. But it’s finally here for all of us — not just the gaming, but all the social energy, social capital and friendships that go with it.

The introduction of the Xbox Adaptive Controller is monumental. It shows that the deeper but less obvious needs of people with disabilities are being understood. It shows that a company with a mandate to deliver products for us all is delivering products that truly are for us all.

That is the true joy of seeing the Xbox Adaptive Controller released today. And if you don’t think it’s really joyous, take a look at the attached video of my son playing with his friends.

Now the Xbox Adaptive Controller is here, maybe we can fully acknowledge that the biggest issue faced by people with disabilities hasn’t been a lack of desire, or ability, or motivation – it’s been a lack of access. We can now see that the biggest obstacle to participation can be overcome if one commits to discussion, drive and smart design.

Thanks Microsoft. Thanks, Satya and Jenny, and thanks Bryce, Elizabeth and Jessica and so many others. From all of us at the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, thanks for making us a small part of this remarkable moment.

And now I gotta go. My son wants to play Xbox with me.

Originally published: September 4, 2018
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