Sony's PlayStation Access: A Game-Changer for Gamers with Disabilities

Photo by PlayStation Blog

Grant Stoner, a Pittsburgh native with spinal muscular atrophy type 2, has always loved video games. Playing Super Nintendo in his parent’s bedroom at three and bonding with classmates and family through gaming has been a significant part of his life. But as someone with a physical disability, he’s faced numerous challenges when it comes to gaming.

“Gaming, for me, has always been a social activity,” Stoner said.

For many people with disabilities, gaming is a lifeline for forming friendships and community. However, the technology underpinning the gaming sector has often been criticized for its lack of inclusivity. Disabled gamers have had to be innovative, designing or creating their adaptive setups to continue playing. Stoner recalls how his brother used to attach a Popsicle stick to the trigger of his gaming controller to help him play when he lost strength in his fingers.

A Lifeline for Social Interaction

Paul Amadeus Lane, who developed quadriplegia after an accident and lost finger mobility, shares similar experiences. He learned to play games using his chin, lips, and cheeks to push buttons on a controller. He also experienced a change in his social circle after his accident, leading to feelings of isolation. “Gaming can help with those social barriers out there, especially with social isolation,” Lane said.

Lane was called to advise Sony on a “secret project” in 2021. He was overjoyed to learn that Sony’s gaming division was working on a controller designed for people with disabilities. This was a significant step forward, considering Microsoft’s Xbox had released an Adaptive Controller for Xbox in 2018. However, there were still substantial gaps for gamers with disabilities on PlayStation or Nintendo consoles.

Sony’s PlayStation Access Controller

After years of development and consultation with disabled gamers, Sony Interactive Entertainment unveiled its Access controller for gamers with disabilities. The controller is highly customizable to meet the diverse needs of players and is aimed at helping gamers play more comfortably for longer durations. The device can be configured with swappable buttons and stick caps to suit a range of mobility needs.

In a Q&A posted on Sony’s company blog, Alvin Daniel, the senior technical program manager for the Access controller, mentioned that the development team realized that “no two people experience disability in the same way.” They sought the help of players and accessibility experts to build a controller that could be as inclusive as possible. The result is a Sony-designed device that gamers can tailor to their needs.

Impacts of the Access Controller

The Access controller has already significantly impacted gamers like Lane, who can now play racing games again for the first time since his accident. “And then when I could try out Gran Turismo, I was like, I can game and play racing games again!” Lane exclaimed.

Stoner is also excited about the PlayStation Access controller and is especially encouraged by its affordability compared to other options in the market. However, he emphasized that there is still much work to be done in the industry. “This is not a perfect solution,” he said. “We need to keep innovating around games – the software and the hardware aspects – because nothing we have currently is fully accessible to every disabled person.”

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