AbleGamers Plea to Microsoft: Don’t Lock Out Gamers with Disabilities

An individual with a beard and black glasses playing video games using a QuadStick

At AbleGamers, our mission has always been steadfast: to ensure that people with disabilities, regardless of their capabilities, can immerse themselves in the joy of gaming. It is with this commitment in mind that we voice our deep concern regarding Microsoft’s recent decision to exclude all 3rd party accessories not manufactured by Microsoft or another licensed Xbox hardware partner. The truth is, we do not have any inside information, unfortunately our partners at Xbox did not reach out to us as they have done in the past, and we learned about this like everyone else did. AbleGamers is in the process of identifying people in our community who have been negatively impacted by this Microsoft policy.

We comprehend that a driving force behind this move may be to mitigate cheating issues associated with devices like the Cronus Zen and the Brook Wingman. And as gamers ourselves, we could not agree more, players that use these devices to cheat make gaming less fun for all of us. However, it is crucial to recognize the sweeping implications of such a decision. These devices aren’t merely potential tools for unfair advantage, ; they are indispensable in our work of tailoring gaming equipment for players with disabilities. This year alone, AbleGamers Peer Counselling program has matched these devices with over 50 gamers with disabilities, dramatically enhancing their gaming experience. How do we use these devices? They are the tool that gives a custom controller the ability to communicate with the gaming console, to translate what a button we created into an input that the Xbox can understand, and nothing more.

To illustrate the profound impact, consider Chris H., a Service-Disabled Veteran from Cleveland, OH. Just last week AbleGamers sent him the QuadStick—a specialized controller for quadriplegic gamers—allowed him to rekindle his passion for gaming with his two sons. In Chris’ words, “There’s a sense of bonding and sharing with my children [when we play together].” This controller, which costs a significant $1000, leans heavily on the Brook Wingman XB2 device to connect with Xbox.

We fear a scenario in which this new Microsoft policy does not allow valuable pieces of technology such as the QuadStick to function on Xbox consoles. These changes potentially lock out members of our own team from playing Xbox, as well as the hundreds of players we’ve already helped, and many more we need to support.

Microsoft’s decision is all the more shocking given their notable strides in promoting accessibility. Their groundbreaking Xbox Adaptive Controller was a testament to their foresight in this domain—a move we, at AbleGamers, not only contributed to its development, but wholeheartedly celebrated. More recently, their Surface Adaptive Kit, and  Microsoft Adaptive Accessories have consistently underscored their dedication to accessibility.

Ironically, the devices Microsoft now seeks to eliminate are likely the very ones we employ in tandem with their Xbox Adaptive Controller, to facilitate getting gamers with disabilities to transition seamlessly into the PlayStation world. Our team was eagerly preparing to employ one of these devices to bridge the newly unveiled PlayStation Access Controller with Xbox’s signature game, Forza.

A blanket ban on these 3rd party controllers feels unnecessarily restrictive. We are already hearing reports of people encountering this new policy. We’re convinced that more balanced solutions are within reach. Engaging in cooperative initiatives with device manufacturers or enhancing cheat detection mechanisms could provide a viable way forward.

As relentless champions for the rights of gamers with disabilities, we implore Microsoft to revisit this decision. We urge a considered pause, followed by a proactive dialogue with controller manufacturers to seek a compromise that addresses both security concerns and the preservation of these devices’ core functionalities. The essence of gaming is inclusivity, and every player deserves unimpeded access and equal opportunities. We, at AbleGamers, stand unwaveringly by this philosophy and fervently hope industry giants like Microsoft will resonate with our commitment.