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The latest PlayStation controller is designed to improve accessibility for gamers with disabilities.

The latest PlayStation controller is designed to improve accessibility for gamers with disabilities.

Paul Lane utilizes his oral features, specifically his mouth, cheek, and chin, to operate buttons and maneuver his virtual vehicle along the racetrack in Gran Turismo on the PlayStation 5. This has been his method of gameplay for 23 years, since a car crash resulted in the loss of finger dexterity.

For individuals with disabilities, playing video games has always been a struggle. This is primarily due to the complex controllers used for popular gaming systems such as PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo, which can be challenging or even impossible for those with limited physical abilities to use. The inability to participate in these games not only means missing out on a beloved hobby, but it can also worsen feelings of social isolation, which is already prevalent among this community at a much higher rate than the rest of the population.

Sony collaborated with accessibility experts, including Lane, to create the Access controller for PlayStation as a solution to issues within the gaming industry. This controller is the most recent addition to the market of controllers designed for accessibility, with contributions from various companies such as Microsoft, startups, and even individuals using 3D printers as hobbyists.

Cesar Flores, who is now 30 years old and has been using a wheelchair since a car accident eight years ago, shared that he used to be very involved in sports. He was a wrestler and played football in high school, and enjoyed weightlifting. However, due to his injury, there are now certain physical limitations that prevent him from participating in these activities. Playing video games serves as a reminder to him that he is still human and part of the group. He also consulted with Sony on the controller, likely due to its accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

Lane, who is 52 years old, sets aside the traditional controller and instead uses the Access. This device is circular and can be personalized to fit on a table or wheelchair tray. It offers a variety of configurations to cater to the user’s specific needs, such as changing buttons and thumbsticks, setting up specialized controls, and connecting two controllers to function as one. Lane uses the controller’s back with his hand to maneuver his Gran Turismo car on a virtual race track.

He explained, “I have a unique way of gaming, so it’s important for me to have the ability to use both of my hands comfortably. This means positioning the controllers in a way that allows me to use them without them getting in each other’s way. The versatility of being able to move the controllers has been great, and the fact that this controller is ready to use straight out of the box.”

Lane and fellow gamers have collaborated with Sony since 2018 in the development of the Access controller. The goal was to design a versatile controller that could cater to a diverse range of needs, instead of targeting specific disabilities.

FILE - Paul Amadeus Lane uses a Sony Access controller to play a PlayStation 5 video game at Sony Interactive Entertainment headquarters Sept. 28, 2023, in San Mateo, Calif.

On September 28, 2023, at Sony Interactive Entertainment headquarters in San Mateo, California, Paul Amadeus Lane utilized a Sony Access controller to engage in a PlayStation 5 video game.

Mark Barlet, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit AbleGamers stated that individuals with multiple sclerosis may experience hearing difficulties, as well as visual or motor impairments. Instead of focusing on their disability label, the focus should be on providing an inclusive gaming experience that accommodates their unique needs and abilities. This can be achieved by bridging the gap between the game and controllers that are not designed for their specific challenges.

Barlet stated that his group, which assisted Sony and Microsoft in developing accessible controllers, has been promoting for gamers with disabilities for almost twenty years. The rise of social media has allowed gamers themselves to spread the message and communicate directly with creators on forums that were previously unavailable.

Over the past five years, I have witnessed the progression of the game accessibility movement, from independent studios focusing on certain features to major blockbuster games becoming playable for individuals who are blind,” he stated. “The progress made in just five years is truly remarkable.”

Microsoft stated that they were pleased with the positive response to their Xbox Adaptive controller upon its release in 2018. They also expressed their appreciation for other companies in the industry who are adopting a similar approach to make their work more accessible for a wider range of players.

The global release for the Access controller is scheduled for December 6th with a price of $90 in the United States.

According to Alvin Daniel, a senior technical program manager at PlayStation, the device was created with three main principles in mind in order for it to be accessible to a wide range of players. Firstly, the controller can be used without being held as it can lay flat on a table, wheelchair tray, or be mounted on a tripod. This was crucial for it to fit on a wheelchair tray, as it would be difficult for a player to retrieve it without assistance if it fell off. Additionally, the device needed to be sturdy enough to withstand being run over by a wheelchair.

Additionally, it is significantly more convenient to activate the buttons compared to a typical controller. This product is a set that includes various button covers of varying sizes, shapes, and textures, allowing individuals to test out different configurations to find the most suitable one for their needs. Lastly, the thumbsticks can also be adjusted to cater to the preferences of the user.

The Access controller has the potential to greatly benefit a growing group of gamers – older players with conditions like arthritis that may limit their agility and strength. Its design allows for easier use compared to the standard PlayStation controller.

Daniel stated that the average age of gamers is currently in their forties. He also expressed his belief that he and others in this age group will continue to enjoy gaming as a form of entertainment.

Following his injury, Lane took a break from gaming for a duration of seven years. As someone who had started playing video games at a young age with the Magnavox Odyssey (which was first released in 1972), he described it as a significant gap in his daily routine.

Restarting the game, despite the limitations of a regular controller, felt like reuniting with a dear friend after a long time apart.

Lane stated that the social influence of gaming has significantly altered his life, providing him with a more positive outlook. He acknowledged the tendency for individuals who were once physically capable to become socially isolated after becoming disabled.

He expressed that everything is constantly evolving. As we lose more, we become more alone. Engaging in gaming, especially at an advanced level, allows us to reunite with the past and feels like reconnecting with a dear friend.