The goal of technology is to make our day to day lives easier. Many of us don’t stop to think about how the experience is different for every user. I often try to be mindful of how people with disabilities use tech to improve their everyday. Technology allows us to make the impossible possible by creating solutions to life-long hurdles. In less simplistic terms, our technology helps foster an environment of inclusion, which is one of the main reasons I love technology, since nobody wants to feel left out.
I should mention that as a child and teen I volunteered to work with children with intellectual and physical disabilities, so the concerns of the differently abled have always of great importance to me. This week Microsoft did something that brought a tear to my eye: they debuted the Xbox adaptive controller. A new controller specifically made for gamers with disabilities. As a gamer I can’t overstate that this is huge. For too long gaming has been something that has relied on adept amounts of dexterity. Modern controllers, for the most part, just aren’t simple. Most games use every button and you need to operate two analog stick with your thumbs fluidly.
So, what makes the Adaptive Controller so special? Well-considered design is the key factor. This new device is simple and customizable with modular accessories. The main piece looks something like a turntable with a d-pad at first glance. but the really impressive bit is the back which has multiple plug-ins for button peripherals and other objects. These features allow for a completely custom experience for each game when mapping controls, so each game can have a different setup that creates ease when playing. Want to play a shooter? Sure, just connect these peripheral pieces and switch the settings. Friend wants to play a fighting game? Same thing. Easy, breezy, modular.
Other members of the industry are catching on. Last year when Nintendo dropped Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch they added in features that would prevent players with motor impairments to fly off the track and be able to finish a race without frustration. Additionally, this mode made it so my much younger niece can finally whoop my ass.
Picture it though, always being on the outside looking in and saying, “I wish I could play that” and accepting that you can’t as your day to day reality. But now, not only can you play it, even better- you can win. You can be that hero who saves the princess or prince. You can dominate in Call of Duty or Battlefront. I can’t fathom how validating that must feel as it is something I’ve always had the privilege of doing (not to toot my own horn, but I’m wicked good at shooters).
It is not just the gaming industry though; the train of inclusion has been chugging forward for a few years. Just look at Apple, they actually just updated their website this week spotlighting the accessibility functions. Go open your iPhone or iPad settings and check that section. There is an incredible slew of features geared towards improving User Experience for users with impairments. You’ve actually probably a turned a few on without knowing before, like voiceover. We’ve all turned it on once and been like my god where is this voice coming from. Well that voice allows the visually impaired to use an iPhone. In the words of Johnny Carson “that is some wild stuff” If you peruse the App Store you’ll find sections geared towards Special Education, Communication, and Accessibility.
One example is an SGD (Speech Generating Device) system. Remember the voice machine Stephen Hawking used? Yea those are quite expensive. The iPad took care of that function for many with just simple reprogrammable Speech apps. Once again put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t have a voice and now you are able to communicate with the touch of the screen. That’s some powerful stuff right there.
These are the moments in which our tech truly makes us better and the world a more inclusive place where fun and the possibilities are endless. That’s an exciting future I want to live in and kudos to Microsoft for listening.