Xbox Series X
Corbin Davenport / How-To Geek
The Xbox Adaptive Controller helps gamers with disabilities by offering them a controller option that's comfortable to use and customizable enough to fit their needs.

Most gaming controllers are built for people without disabilities. However, in the U.S., 26% of people have some sort of disability. This means that many gamers can’t use standard controllers to play video games comfortably—or at all. Thankfully, there are some other options for them.

What Is the Xbox Adaptive Controller?

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is a wide and flat device with proportions similar to a computer keyboard. The shape and design of this device are meant to help those with limited dexterity play video games more comfortably —or even grant them the ability to play video games when they were previously unable to.

The top surface of the Xbox Adaptive Controller has two large buttons in addition to a few smaller ones and a D-pad. At the top, there are 19 3.5mm ports. There are also two USB 2.0 ports: one on the left side and another on the right. There are other ports and buttons, but the above-mentioned are what make up the bulk of this controller’s features.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller viewed from directly above it.

Why the Xbox Adaptive Controller Is Useful for Gamers with Disabilities

Imagine trying to hold something designed for two hands…but you don’t have two hands. Or, picture yourself attempting to pull off a series of precise button combinations while you don’t have feeling in most of your left side. Now you’ve got a sense of what gaming is like when you have a disability.

Capabilities and Functions

Larger buttons are always easier to press than small ones. That’s why the “A” and “B” buttons are huge. However, besides the D-pad, you’ll notice that there aren’t any other true controller buttons. That’s because the designers of the Xbox Adaptive Controller don’t want to limit the possibilities.

As mentioned before, there are 19 3.5mm ports and two USB 2.0 ports through which you can connect other devices. These are what you’d pair with the other buttons. In this manner, you can create plenty of layouts for your preferred gaming style.

An Xbox Adaptive Controller connected to a joystick, a small red button, and a large green button through some of its 3.5mm ports.

The flat shape also means that the Xbox Adaptive Controller can rest comfortably on a table or on your lap—whichever is more convenient. With both USB-C and Bluetooth connectivity, you also have multiple options for connecting it to your console or PC. The Bluetooth method is particularly handy, as you can get your game on from pretty much anywhere in the room.

The High Degree of Customization

Not only can you plug in any compatible device for the other buttons, but you can also change which ports are assigned to them. For example, you can remap the “Y” button input at the top-right of the controller to become the “LT” button (the left trigger).

For those who need the controller to be set at a particular angle, there are also multiple screw holes of different sizes on the back that allow you to mount it onto a tripod or other standing object.

An Xbox Adaptive Controller mounted to a bracket that has orange tightening levers.

Compatibility With Third-Party Devices

On top of all the customization options, peripherals that connect via 3.5mm and USB 2.0 cords are widely available online. This includes buttons of all sizes, joysticks, foot pedals, and more. You can even connect a computer mouse to this controller if you wanted. Sadly, a lot of these peripherals can be quite expensive.

Thankfully, there are no brand restrictions. Any device that’s meant to work with a console or PC for gaming should work.

Challenges and Limitations of the Xbox Adaptive Controller

While this controller is a huge leap forward for gaming accessibility, it’s not perfect. There are some concerns surrounding it from multiple angles.

Availability and Affordability

Depending on where you live, you may have a hard time finding the Xbox Adaptive Controller in-store. We looked it up at nearby Walmart, The Source, and Best Buy locations only to find that they either do not carry this controller or that it’s only available online. As such, if your desired store does carry the Xbox Adaptive Controller, you’ll likely have to pay a shipping cost on top of its base price.

Speaking of which, this device is not cheap. It costs $99.99 USD—more than twice the price of most standard wireless controllers. We get that it may have more production costs due to being uniquely shaped, but ergonomic keyboards…oh, wait, Microsoft is charging the same price for some of their keyboards as well. Let’s chalk this one up to commercialism-based greed.

Compatibility and Technical Issues

For starters, it’s only truly usable with the Xbox One and Windows 10 and Windows 11 PCs. The Xbox website states that it has limited functionality with Windows 7 and Windows 8.1—which, long story short, means you might as well not bother using this controller with older PCs.

Next up are the battery and charging issues. Strangely, the Xbox Adaptive Controller does not come with a power adapter. You can charge it with the nine-inch USB-C cable that it does come with, which is arguably better than a standard power adapter. However, you only get the cable, so you either need to plug it into a device with such a port (the Xbox One does not have a USB-C port) or separately buy a USB-C wall charger.

Moreover, this seems to defeat the purpose of having a port for a power adapter; wouldn’t another USB 2.0 port (or another type of port) be a better use of space? We’re talking about a controller that’s partially selling itself on its ability to connect with tons of peripherals.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is powered by a lithium-ion battery, which, in itself, isn’t an issue in most cases. However, they do contain toxic substances and can catch fire if they get damaged. The risk of such problems is relatively low in many scenarios, but airlines are very serious about them. This, in turn, means that you may need to rethink bringing an Xbox Adaptive Controller with you when you travel.

Possible Improvements

Bring down the price until it’s somewhat close to that of a standard wireless Xbox One controller. If we’re talking about accessibility, Microsoft should consider people’s financial accessibility as well. Bringing down the price would make the controller accessible to more people.

Next, make it compatible with the Xbox Series X/S. If standard Xbox One controllers (and even headsets) can be used with the Xbox Series X/S, there’s no good reason why the same shouldn’t be true for the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

A lot of the battery and charging issues we brought up are rather minor, however, Microsoft should be giving gamers a more convenient way to charge this device. We would prefer if the company included a USB-C wall charger or something along those lines.

The Importance of Accessibility in Gaming

When we’re talking about gamers with disabilities, we’re talking about a wide group of people with varying capabilities. There are those with limb and finger-related issues, those with nervous system impairments, as well as others that have trouble seeing, hearing, and more.

Such disabilities cause challenges in many aspects of an individual’s life—including the enjoyment of their favorite hobbies. Playing video games requires using three senses: vision, hearing, and touch. If you have impairments in any of those areas, you won’t be able to enjoy a video game properly.

Unfortunately, there is a severe lack of gaming accessibility in these regards. The creation of disability-friendly controllers has only happened somewhat recently in mainstream gaming. Prior to the invention of the Xbox Adaptive Controller (and similar devices), people with disabilities simply could not play video games as non-disabled people do.

Most video games and controllers are built for people without disabilities. Thankfully, things are changing for the better. More and more accessibility options are becoming available—and not just new types of controllers. Increasingly, color-blind modes, larger font options, and more changeable features are showing up in the settings menus of modern video games.

The Impact of the Xbox Adaptive Controller

Prior to its release in 2018, the Xbox Adaptive Controller was developed by Microsoft with the aid of a few disability awareness groups, such as The AbleGamers Charity, The Cerebral Palsy Foundation, SpecialEffect, and Warfighter Engaged. Furthermore, there was apparently a lot of community involvement that impacted the design, functionality, and packaging of this controller.

Now, five years later, Sony has begun to design its own type of disability-friendly controller. Called “Project Leonardo,” Sony’s upcoming PS5 controller aims to climb onto the accessibility bandwagon in the best of ways. There’s no doubt that Sony is trying to compete with Microsoft—however, the effects of this competition benefit gamers with disabilities.

The increased awareness of disabilities is overall a good thing. It sets a positive trend focused on inclusivity for all. As we move forward, more and more options will appear to aid gamers with disabilities to delve into their desired digital worlds.

Profile Photo for Reyadh Rahaman Reyadh Rahaman
Reyadh has been writing full-time for years, covering technology and video games at websites like VGKAMI and Game Rant. When he's not writing technical articles for various publications, he's working on his fiction novels, playing video games, or reading up on interesting topics. Reyadh studied Broadcast Television/Videography at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario.
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