Microsoft's Xbox Adaptive Controller Is Massively Useful For Gamers With Disabilities

Earlier this week we caught a glimpse at the big slab of a controller that had leaked that was claimed to be the new Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC). The odd thing about the image we saw was that it didn’t seem to have much in the way of improved accessibility other than massive "A" and "B" buttons. The D-pad didn’t seem much larger and we wondered why the buttons would be so huge, yet the D-pad basically regular size. It turns out the XAC is a controller on its own, but also acts as a hub for accessory devices.


ArsTechnica has spent some time with the interesting new controller at the Xbox Inclusive Tech Lab and it makes a lot more sense now than it did on Monday. The massive buttons are only a small part of the adaptive capability of the XAC for limited-mobility gamers. What we couldn't see in that single image that leaked was the 19 different 3.5mm inputs on the top edge of the controller.

Those 3.5mm ports aren’t for sharing audio with your entire team, but rather is the default connection for the wealth of add-on devices made specifically for gamers with limited-mobility. Most gamers are unfamiliar with these accessories unless they need one and include things like oversized buttons, finger switches, blow tubes, foot pedals, and other special inputs to allow gamers of all types to get into the action.

Most of those accessories allow on/off input like basic button presses, but a few of the 3.5mm ports do support analog joystick and trigger presses. There are a pair of USB ports included for PC flight sticks and an Xbox branded one-handed peripheral from PDP. Often these specialized controllers and accessories can be very expensive, but Microsoft has positioned its XAC very well with a price tag of $100, some similar controllers can start at $399.

Microsoft also gave some insight into how the controller came to be; the original rough prototype came from the annual Microsoft Hackathon in 2015. It was able to get support to move to the next stage of development in 2016 for working out a business case pitch for the controller with a refined concept coming at the next Hackathon. Eventually, the controller passed to the next phase where the designers had to change how they look at the controller and decided to build it first party rather than farming the design out to a third-party device maker, despite having no clear idea how many Microsoft might sell.

What Microsoft ended up with is a value priced hub of sorts that limited-mobility gamers can connect all the specialized gear they might need to play whatever they want. XAC connects just like a normal Xbox controller and can be used with a PC as well. Gamers needing a specialized controller such as this now have an option to fill their needs rather than having to spend significant money and time seeking out hard-to-find niche devices.