So, this video / article is going live on Thursday November 5th, around five days before the worldwide release of the Xbox Series X. Thanks to Microsoft, who sent me an early retail unit of the console for review, I’ve had a series X in my house now for around two weeks, and one of the main aspects of the console I have spent my time focusing on is how accessible the console is for disabled players.
Last week, I published an episode of Access-Ability all about the process of unboxing the Xbox Series X from an accessibility perspective. At the time, I couldn’t really talk about anything besides unboxing the console, but today all NDAs have lifted, so I can tell you everything else you might need to know.
On today’s Access-Ability, we’re going to talk you through all things Accessibility on the launch day retail Xbox Series X. From support for your existing accessibility peripherals, to software based support options, let’s get into what Microsoft has done to help as many people as possible play their new console.
First, and perhaps most immediately apparent, the Xbox Series X supports all existing Xbox One controllers and peripherals, with the exception of the Kinect. Microsoft’s new Xbox Controller is slightly smaller and more compact than its previous controller, but other than the addition of a share button, it doesn’t have any new features missing from past controllers. In practice, this means that if you’ve got a favourite game controller that helps you play on Xbox One more easily, it will still be able to be used on the Series X.
From third party controllers of non standard shapes, to controllers with turbo buttons, any Xbox One supported controller will work on the Series X right out of the box, and this includes the Xbox Adaptive Controller.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller is a modular controller designed to help disabled players play games more effectively. Players can plug in first and third party peripherals, which can be spread out to locations more easily accessible by the player. The Xbox Adaptive Controller is supported on Xbox Series X right out the box, making this the first time ever a next generation console has released with day one support for an officially produced disability focused controller. Thanks to the Xbox Series X controller featuring a near identical button layout to last generation controllers, players are unlikely to need to make any changes to their existing lineup of peripherals when moving to the Series X.
I do want to quickly note that, while I have only had experience this week with the Xbox Series X, I am informed that all of my comments in this video also apply to the Series S, Microsoft’s smaller and cheaper entry point to the new generation of consoles, releasing alongside the Series X next week.
On the subject of controllers, one Xbox One software level feature making a return on the Xbox Series X is Co-Pilot mode, which we recently published an episode of Access-Ability all about, link down in the description.
In short, Co-Pilot mode allows Xbox Series X players to treat two controllers as one in the eyes of the console. Two people could play a video game together, splitting the controls between them, or one player can use two different controllers as part of a single setup. Players using an Xbox Adaptive Controller can integrate a regular Xbox Series X into their setup if desired, for example using the base controller’s left analogue stick and triggers, but operating the rest of their button layout using the adaptive controller.
Xbox Series X players can, much like on the Xbox One, remap all buttons on their controllers on a system level, as well as remapping co-pilot controllers independently of each other. They also have the option to turn off all controller vibration, if that causes issues for them.
Lastly, all buttons on the new Xbox Series X controller can be accessed and pressed while the controller is placed flat on a table or other flat surface, keeping the controller usable if you need to place it down due to fatigue or pain.
Honestly, after a few weeks with the Xbox Series X, a lot of the story when it comes to the system’s level of out the box accessibility seems to come from a mentality of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”. Pretty much every software level accessibility feature from the Xbox One makes its way intact to the Xbox Series X at launch, and no new features have been added that create new accessibility hurdles for users. If you found a setup that works for you on the Xbox One, you can be confident picking up a Series X in the knowledge you’ll be able to play that too.
On top of the controller focused accessibility features, the Series X on day one features Narrator support, allowing blind and partially sighted players to have on screen text read out loud to them by the console. The narrator features some really impressively thought out options, such as the ability to have the console teach you button positions by verbal description.
The Xbox Series X also features support for a screen magnifier, the ability to change all audio output to mono (which may be useful for headphone users who may not be able to hear in one of their ears), as well as high contrast menu settings that can make on screen elements easier to see.
Beyond the explicitly disability focused features of the system, there’s a few other design considerations which are also important to note.
At the time of writing this script, I have not had a chance to go hands on with a PS5, so I am currently having to base my impressions of its User Interface on an official video released by Sony. While it’s entirely possible the PS5 UI can be resized in settings menu, the default setup shown by Sony features incredibly small home menu icons for games, that I struggled to make out detail in as someone with decent eyesight strength. The home screen icons simply seem too small to be considered accessibility friendly.
The Xbox Series X however features much larger icons for games, settings, and menu options, which are much easier at a glance to see and understand. While it’s a matter of personal preference which UI you think looks better, it’s undeniable that it’s easier to see what each icon in the Xbox Series X home screen actually is.
As I said earlier in the video, I have not had a chance at the time of recording this video to try my hands on a PS5 for myself. A lot of my concerns about that console, from an accessibility perspective, come from the console’s new features, questions about if they will be able to be switched off, and whether the console’s small UI size can be altered. A lot of my concerns there are with things that Sony has changed, and we don’t know if they will allow players to change back. A very last minute published article confirmed that the PS5 Dualsense Controller Haptic Feedback and Resistive triggers will be able to be switched off, but a lot of system software questions still remain.
The Xbox Series X largely succeeds as an accessible console, because it’s following the template of their last console. The Series X feels like a much faster Xbox One, which has its pros and cons, but by keeping their UI, settings, and peripheral support consistent between hardware generations, Microsoft has ensured a really smooth transition for disabled players. If you can play games on Xbox One, you’ll be totally fine picking up a launch day Series X. You can be confident your accessible setup will still work, and that’s a huge relief to know up front.
The Series X doesn’t break any new Accessibility ground, and that’s sort of okay, it didn’t really need to. Microsoft has been doing the leg work this past generation to build an accessible ecosystem, and it hasn’t done anything here to undermine the work it previously put in. If you’re a disabled gamer who can play on Xbox One, you can rest safe in the knowledge Microsoft isn’t doing anything this generation to push you away from gaming.