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This Xbox Controller provides clever ways to disable people from playing

Mike Luckett is a lifelong player.

He began at the age of 5 almost three decades ago and joined his older brother, who played the original Super Mario Bros. title on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Within a few years he played games like Id Software's 1992 Nazi Prison Break Shooter, Wolfenstein 3D and the follow-up sci-fi hit Doom.

Over the years, Luckett has garnered many consoles, including the 1988 Sega Genesis, the 1994 Sony PlayStation, the 2005 Xbox 360, and the 2017 Xbox One X. One of his favorite games was Vectorman, a shoot-up adventure, where you are a robot that will protect the earth in the future against another evil robot rebellion.

But that changed after the accident

After Luckett was stationed abroad from 201

0 to March 2011 and used for the army in Iraq, he came home. A few months later, in August, he rode a motorcycle when things went wrong. The accident severed his C6 spinal cord and prevented him from using his legs. While he can move his hands, he has lost control of his fingers.

And he could not use a computer anymore. "I could not even work with the buttons or with a trackpad or anything like that," says Luckett.

But he got really frustrated when he realized that while he was eager to try Activision Blizzard's Overwatch 2016 fantasy shooter game, he needed a controller he could not handle. He decided to stop playing, according to Luckett.

Mike Lucket's Build: Two controllers, including the new Xbox Adaptive Controller from Microsoft.

James Martin / CNET

He was not the first player to face physical challenges. Since almost the beginning of the industry, video games have been built with a few basic assumptions about the players: they can see that they can hear and they have two fully functional hands. The first video game controllers – such as Atari or Nintendo – were designed with joysticks and buttons .

To help them play on their own terms, some people in the disability community hacked solutions together by breaking the controllers and attaching buttons, switches, and other things that allowed them to signal with their feet or elbows to send the game blow his head against a button or even blow in a tube. The construction of specialized controllers, however, is complicated, expensive and time-consuming. Worse, the setup process does not always work.

Now there is something that can help Luckett and others like him get back into the game.

It is the Xbox Adaptive Controller from Microsoft. The $ 99 device, which will be released later this year, is designed to help players of all types, sizes and abilities play games as they can. It offers ports where players can connect switches, buttons, pressure-sensitive tubes, and other devices to control any function a standard controller can do. Microsoft presented it on Wednesday before the Global Accessibility Awareness Day, where design and development communities focus on learning and sharing ideas about developing products for people with disabilities.

"We come to 2 billion people who play video games on this planet," said Phil Spencer the head of Microsoft's Xbox team, last week in an interview. "As an industry, when you start to take that kind of influence, in terms of the broad base of people who interact with your art form, I think we have a social responsibility."

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In his wheelchair in an accessibility lab built by Microsoft in his "Studio B" building at the headquarters in Redmond, Washington, Luckett showed me what these efforts have done for him. Since he does not use his fingers, the quiet 32-year-old needs both hands just to hold a controller. If he wants to push a button or press the joystick, he has to rest the controller against something and then bring one hand up to do the work. If the controller has to use three or four fingers at once, there's simply no way.

The key feature of the Xbox Adaptive Controller is that it has ports on the back that represent each key on a standard controller. So if Luckett needs the right trigger button that is placed right next to his elbow, Luckett can place one there and then connect it to the back of the adaptive controller. All he has to do now is tap the button and he registers as if he had pressed the trigger of a standard controller.

I watched him powering Fortnite, Epic Games' hit Battle Royale shooter. Once it starts, it plays like any other person on the screen. You would never be able to tell that he was using special equipment, including a button near his elbow, a large button next to his wrist, and a separate controller to move. He is still able to move fast and turn off enemies better than ever.

"It's a really cool escape," he says. "You dive into a world that you normally do not line up with."

He does not hide his disability. His gamer name is MikeTheQuad .

  Microsoft Accessibility Controller

The Xbox Adaptive Controller, against an Xbox console and standard controller (left).

James Martin / CNET

Gamer of all kinds

Video games are about escape as well as entertainment. In a minute, you're sitting at home after a long day at school or at work, in the next, you control a spaceship through an epic aerial battle in a distant galaxy.

For some disabled people and especially millennials (the oldest of whom are now nearly 40 years old), gaming is not just a pastime; It is part of their identity. And by the time Microsoft got around, they never accepted the activity they had enjoyed enough.

"It is not to be underestimated that it hurts painfully for someone to sit there and watch someone else set up the device for them and wait 30 minutes to turn the device on," says Scott Wang, an Xbox Hardware researcher. Sometimes the Jerry-manipulated buttons work. But sometimes one of them does not, so people have to go through a frustrating ordeal that does not work and why.

"Microsoft's inspiration with the Xbox Adaptive Controller was to remove as many restrictions as possible," says Wang

A normal controller is small enough to fit in a coat pocket, but big enough to fit in To feel hands. It's ergonomically shaped, with edges that glide naturally into your palms, positioning your thumbs over the top buttons and your index and middle fingers on the side and bottom triggers.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller, codenamed Zephyr is completely different.

It is the shape of a rectangle that is only a little smaller than a tray and can easily rest on your lap. It has four big sticky rubberized feet so it does not slip on a table. In times of thin laptops and tablets, the device looks beefier. But it's also usually white to off-white on the top and sides and black on the bottom, so it looks good even with velcro. Why does that matter? Therapists say that their patients hate when things "look" as they do for disabled people.

At the top are two large round black buttons that are easy to operate with the lightest touch on their side. To their left is a direction block that is about 150 percent the size of a standard controller. And there are a few buttons above the pad to share in-game recordings with friends and turn the Xbox on and off remotely. With one of the buttons, you can choose between four profiles if you are set up for different people in your home – or even want to play different types of games.

The true magic lies in the back and sides. There are two open USB ports and 19 ports that accept a standard 3.5mm cable (the size of the plug for your headphones) that can accept signals from switches, steering wheels, pressure sensitive tubes, and other devices that are powered by It's easier to type, control computers and play video games.

There are 19 ports on the back of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, each representing a function of a standard controller.

James Martin / CNET

In order to make the operation as easy as possible, Microsoft has provided its controller with grooves over the ports so that someone who grabs his back can easily find with his fingers what he needs. And there are corresponding markers on the top of the controller that lead you to where the ports are located on the sides.

Microsoft has equipped the device with a rechargeable battery that takes about 25 hours to cover the battery when the device runs out of juice.

On a Standard Controller: "It's not easy to replace the door, replace the batteries, and replace them," says Yaron Galitzky, general manager of Microsoft's Xbox Devices efforts. Microsoft has also decided to offer charging with a relatively new connector design called USB-C that works, whether you use it upside down or with the right side up. "We looked at every feature of the traditional controller and designed it in the best way for accessibility," says Galitzky.

The end result, hopes Microsoft, is a device that is easily customizable. A controller that becomes what a user needs. When you turn on an Xbox, the game will not know or care about the difference. For the game, it's just another standard controller.

"We're not trying to design for each of us, we're trying to design for each of us," said Bryce Johnson, a senior designer of the Microsoft Xbox Team. "When we design for people who have a unique need, it benefits people everywhere."

Circuit Diagrams of the Xbox Adaptive Controller by Microsoft's Design Team

James Martin / CNET

Accessibility Culture

In recent years, the tech industry has been paying attention to accessibility. Apple has extended its Apple Watch with daily wheelchair programming. Both Apple and Google have added a number of features to help them better listen and read their phones and other devices. Facebook teaches his computers to describe photos to blind people.

Microsoft has developed innovations such as a portable motor to feel the tremor of a Parkinson's patient and then shake in an opposite motion, allowing them to do things as simple as their name, or just a cup of coffee. The world's largest software company has also developed a free app called "Seeing AI" that describes what you can imagine – whether that means reading a menu in a restaurant or figuring out how much money you keep.

And last year in the Xbox group, the company released a feature called Copilot that lets people use two controllers to play with one character. This made it a hit with parents and young children who wanted to play together. It also helped disabled players more comfortable to use two controllers in different positions, or even mix a hacked controller with special keys along with a standard.


Jenny Lay-Flurrie heads Microsoft's efforts for accessibility.


One of the reasons why Microsoft has invested in this technology is a changing corporate culture, says Jenny Lay-Flurrie, director of accessibility efforts. "It's the principle of inclusive design," she says, meaning that the needs of the disabled community are taken into account during the design process, not just at the end. The process, she says, is about "how to think about how this product will work for a human being, including the part of them that is diverse – whether gender, disability, or anything else."

Lay-Flurrie, who became deaf after a fight against the measles, followed by a string of infections as a child, he has brought the company's Microsoft culture toward inclusiveness for nearly two decades. One of the first projects she worked on came from a hackathon in which a team made a wheelchair with their eyes.

Their goal is to make engineers think of people's disabilities, but as a challenge, make technology even easier.

"The best way to describe this is: the World Health Organization defines 'disability' as a mismatch between the individual and the environment," she said. "For the most part, I'm not broke, I have a disability that's not right for me."

During my time on the Microsoft campus, I heard that WHO's definition was repeated by several people, even outside the company's accessible team. The message seems to come through.


Watch this:

Microsoft helps disabled gamers with their own $ 99 controller


"This is not a big win-win for us," says Xbox boss Spencer. "It's about how we make sure we build something that's additive, constructive, and brings more players."

That's certainly the case for Luckett, who says the Xbox accessory controller allows him to delve deeper into his passion for video games. These games function both as a social outlet and as a way to sharpen his mind when playing real sports like wheelchair rugby. "I was mentally strong already and so I was able to pull it off," he says.

As for the next game, he can not wait, it's the western epic of Rockstar Games, Red Dead Redemption 2 October 1965.

"I'm definitely excited to play a game in I can immerse myself and have this personification of being a cowboy who does not quote, "he says.

And where he used to worry if he could even play, he can just enjoy using Microsoft's new controller.

Tech Enabled: CNET reports on the role of technology in providing new types of accessibility.

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