PS5 Access Controller opens up a world for disabled gamers

Posted on December 5, 2023

Accessibility is important to me. I’m disabled and thus, I have to adapt a lot of my gaming practices to accommodate them. I have auditory processing disorder, so I need things like subtitles and audio controls. I also have ADHD, and with that there are some struggles, specifically around memory. It’s why in any game I review, I will always cover accessibility because it’s something that I need for myself. That and, it’s not an area where many people touch on because it doesn’t impact them. It’s why there are some other great gaming sites that cover accessibility. So, when Sony reached out to us about reviewing their new PS5 Access Controller, it brought a huge smile to my face that I can be the one to talk about this. Making games accessible is important as it brings more people into the hobby. In January of this year, we learned about the controller’s presence, then titled Project Leonardo. Now that it’s in our hands… or laps, does the Access Controller help disabled players or hinder them? Well… your mileage may vary.

Sony worked with a lot of people with different ability levels to make this controller work for a large range of people. And even from the unboxing process, it is evident. Throughout the whole process, there are these large loops that you can hook your finger in and open, pull, or tear. To open the box it has two large rings you can pull on. This process is accessible for people who can only use one hand which is a nice touch. Once open, there’s a large piece of paper with information on how to get the controller set up. Removing the paper, along with the protective plastic over the controller, you get to see not only the controller itself but all the bells and whistles to create a controller that feels like yours.

There are 19 buttons for you to use on the controller, you can pick and choose what you want to use. On the controller itself are the 8 pillow buttons, and in the box are 11 other types. Along with that you have three different types of analogue sticks/joysticks. Two are flat, with one mirroring the look and feel of modern controllers, whereas the other one is much larger. The third one is a classic joystick you’d find on arcade machines. Both the buttons and sticks are easy to attach and detach as they can connect via magnets. But during some intense gameplay, they never came off unless they weren’t locked in. When it comes to the buttons themselves, they are huge, not including the large middle one. In the box, there is also this large sheet of cardboard with silicone-like tags that you can pop on the buttons to know what button does what. They are all clearly defined, and fit in nicely with the PS5 aesthetic.

While the buttons are huge, the controller itself is huge too. Most controllers come in a ‘one size fits most’ deal, thus, people with smaller hands (or even larger hands) find a lot of modern controllers difficult to use. Some might see the buttons as too close together, or too small. So having large buttons is a really smart design choice, and it’s clear how life-changing a controller like this can be for disabled people. Another thing that Sony did was make the controller itself flat. You can put it on a table, or a wheelchair tray, or even your lap with a lapboard. It’s a very minute detail that many people (myself included) don’t even think about when it comes to accessibility in games. Maybe you can’t have the controller in your hands for whatever reason, and this solves that.

When it comes to setting up, you can use the access controller with another Access controller and/or your DualSense controller. One of the things I was pretty disappointed about with the PS5 Access Controller is that some games you just… can’t play unless you have access to (or even have the ability to use) the DualSense controller. Games like Astro’s Playroom are in some parts inaccessible because you need motion. Or playing Spider-Man 2 when you need to open up the app or the camera via a swipe to the touch-pad. Luckily the game allows two shortcuts so you can easily pair these prompts to them. This isn’t a major let down, because you can use the DualSense in tandem with the Access Controller. It’s just for people who can’t use the DualSense for whatever reason, can’t play these games independently.

The setup is pretty easy, as you’re prompted to change the controller layout to what you’d like. You can even have 3 profiles attached to each controller. Your racing game layout will look different from your shooting game layout. Along with this, you can even assign a button to have it think you’re pressing two at the same time. For example, to start swinging in Spider-Man, you’ll need to jump first. This can be difficult to press the X button and R2 together. Thus, by assigning a single button press for those two actions, the game will think you’ve pressed them together. However, in this specific example, you’ll have to take up a button to add another X or R2. As in the game, X also can pull you forward in the air and R2 is the button to keep swinging. But, it’s still nice to see the option available even with that issue.

The Access controller also allows the option to add 4 extra control devices via a 3.5mm jack. You can configure them in the setup process as well. Because I don’t have access to these, I wasn’t able to try them for myself. But I imagine that they will work pretty seamlessly. Unfortunately, you can’t input a headphone into these, you can only do it with the DualSense. Along with this, the controller doesn’t have any haptic feedback or sounds. So you’ll have to rely on the DualSense to get those audio and tactile responses. The controller does light up around the ring outside of the large button. Like how the DualSense will light up on the sides of the touchpad.

One of the things I wished I could see is having an option to see what layouts are good for specific games. Everyone’s controller is going to be different depending on your level of accessibility. But after setting up the layout, I’m still not too sure if it’s something I want to stick with. Hopefully, once it’s out to the general public, disabled gamers will share what works for them. At least the kit is very customisable and easy to swap things in and out so it’s not a major disappointment. Another design choice that Sony could’ve refined are the tabs to indicate which button is which. As when you take them off to change them, the tabs are small and can be difficult to pop out of their little hole. I didn’t even bother changing the centre button tab because of this.

Personally, there is a steep learning curve on my part. But for others, it might not be. As due to my ADHD and memory problems, remembering what button is where was a challenge. But considering that I’ve used the stock standard controllers from gaming consoles pretty much my whole life, having to adapt to a new controller with a new layout will be difficult. But, for others, this controller might be easy to understand. Especially for disabled gamers who have had to create their own accessible controller. The buttons feel great, and the tactile sounds of the click are fantastic. It itches that part of my brain that likes making clicking sounds. Even with my qualms, the controller itself has such a great feel to it.

The PS5 Access Controller is a great piece of tech that Sony has created. And it allows people of all accessibility levels to be able to play games that they’ve missed out on. Sony has recently been stepping up in the accessibility department as of late. They now have tags on the store to show what sort of accessibility a game has. And whenever I’ve played a game from Sony, they’ve always impressed me with the accessibility options. Though with that said, the price for these are up there. They retail for $139.95AUD for just one controller. So if you need two you’d be looking at shelling out $279.90AUD. While it is understandable that the controller won’t be dirt cheap, it’s still a shame to see a barrier for entry like that. Considering that disabled people aren’t as wealthy as our abled-body counterparts, and that video games aren’t covered by the NDIS, I worry that the people who need this the most will be gatekept in some form or another.

With all that aside. This is a fantastic piece of hardware and I’m so happy to see that Sony now has a controller for disabled people. While not comparable to Microsoft’s adaptive controller (as that is more of a ‘hub’ than an actual controller), I do hope that this will inspire other people to make controllers more accessible. Sony has knocked it out of the park, and being able to play with this controller has given me a better understanding of gamers who can’t use the DualSense.