The PlayStation Access Controller is finally available to the public after months of teasing and development updates. IGN previewed the device several months ago, and I gave it a 7/10, noting its software is its biggest selling point. It’s another piece of accessible hardware in a barren landscape of choices for disabled players. It’s good but not perfect, and that’s ultimately okay.
This Access Designed isn’t another review of the controller, nor is it a list of grievances or wishes for a future iteration. Instead, I want to talk about my enjoyment of PlayStation games. I want to explore how the most accessible game of 2020 – which demonstrated the importance of accessibility journalism – wasn’t accessible to me, because of a lack of hardware. I want to discuss how the Access Controller, despite its flaws, finally let me experience a major aspect of the games industry.
PlayStation Throughout the Years
I’ve mentioned previously about my adoration for anything and everything Nintendo. Everyone who knows me understands my obsession with the Pokémon franchise. I grew up with Mario, Zelda, and Metroid. But that’s only a small portion of series that formed my love of gaming.
In the fourth grade, my parents surprised my brother and I with a PlayStation 2 for Christmas. We spent the entire break playing Star Wars Battlefront, Champions of Norrath, and a plethora of demo discs that GameStop used to throw at willing customers. Within a year, I was intimately familiar with Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, and even Kingdom Hearts, the latter becoming one of my favorite series to this date. But beyond my enjoyment of these iconic titles, the PlayStation 2 acted as my first experience with inaccessible hardware.
Long before the introduction of extensive accessibility menus, I heavily relied on a game being accessible solely from its design. Even though I played Jak and Daxter, I routinely struggled to shoot enemies. My atrophied hands prevented me from comfortably reaching R1, R2, L1, and L2, forcing me to use melee for most of the enemy encounters. And before my brother had the idea to customize my controllers, I would simply give up after reaching segments which required shoulder buttons. That was my reality, and for years I was comfortable with never finishing inaccessible games. As a child, all I cared about was seeing my favorite characters.
I spent my preteen years alternating between Nintendo and PlayStation. And when I purchased my Xbox 360, I admittedly abandoned some of my favorite games for new titles and more accessible devices. Despite owning a PlayStation 3, I rarely, if ever, played on the system, instead spending time with friends across varying Xbox Live parties. It wasn’t until the release of the PlayStation 4 that I decided to reunite with some of my favorite games.
By the time of the PlayStation 4’s release, my disability progressed to the point of me requiring accessible hardware. Years before the introduction of the Xbox Adaptive Controller, as well as the Access Controller, disabled players like me needed solutions from charities or organizations that designed accessible controllers. I often tell others being disabled costs significantly more than being able-bodied. A custom Dualshock 4 controller with bumpers on the side which mimicked shoulder buttons cost approximately $180. And if that device broke or was not conducive to my needs, I would be required to spend even more on another potential solution.
Thankfully, my adaptive Dualshock 4 from Evil Controllers served its purpose, allowing me to play Kingdom Hearts 3, Diablo 3, and even Child of Light. Yet, with a progressive disability, it was only a matter of time before I needed something else. In 2020, Naughty Dog released The Last of Us Part 2. The industry celebrated it as a win for the disabled community. With dozens of options, varying disabled players could find some form of a solution for any inaccessible barrier they encountered. At the time of its release, I was the Mobility Editor for Can I Play That, the largest publication dedicated solely to accessibility in gaming. My team and I produced numerous stories and videos surrounding the release, highlighting the necessity for coverage of accessibility written by disabled people. When it was my turn to write the mobility review, I was unable to even make it beyond the start menu. I couldn’t access a game with dozens of options because I could no longer hold my Dualshock 4. And rather than spend hundreds of dollars on another solution, I did what was necessary as a journalist – I wrote about my experience and need for accessible hardware.
For several years I was unable to cover, let alone play any PlayStation game. Despite consistent accessibility efforts with dozens of options and design practices across several of their its party studios, my biggest barrier was always a lack of a controller that fit my needs. Now I finally have a device that lets me access some of the most accessible games in the industry.
Is it perfect? Absolutely not. The buttons are often difficult to press, the circular design prevents me from reaching five of the eight buttons, and it only includes four external 3.5mm ports. Yet, despite its imperfections, I’m still able to do something I thought I lost control of years ago. And with a progressive physical disability, reclaiming lost function is an indescribable feeling, one which I don’t want people to experience because of how traumatic it can be.
I’m still struggling to fully play and enjoy PS5 games. For example, I’m unable to collect all the puzzle pieces in Astro’s Playroom because of the lack of a microphone on the Access Controller. But it’s not a situation that deters me from playing. If anything, it’s reminiscent of my childhood struggles with PlayStation long before accessibility became mainstream. Do I wish the Access Controller met my needs? Absolutely. But for now, I’m just excited to finally play PlayStation again.