How the PS5’s DualSense Controller Fails Disabled Gamers

Enlarge / The DualSense Edge offers some nice improvements for professional PS5 gamers, but not the extra accessibility that gamers with disabilities need.

On the opening night of August’s Gamescom conference, PlayStation announced its new PlayStation 5 controller, the DualSense Edge. With the new iteration, gamers can remap inputs and save them as custom profiles and even replace physical buttons and add levers to the back of the controller.

While these changes provide some level of accessibility, neither the announcement nor the accompanying blog post suggests it was deliberate. Rather, the DualSense Edge is a “high-performance, ultra-customizable” gamepad ostensibly aimed at competitive gamers. At its heart, the Edge remains the same old DualSense, and as such its accessibility improvements feel accidental rather than intended.

This has been somewhat disappointing for game accessibility advocates and gamers who rely on non-standard controls. Following Microsoft’s success with the Xbox Adaptive ControllerSony’s lack of similarly accessible control options for the PlayStation 5 is starting to feel like a sore thumb (stick).

Sony’s lane or the highway

The DualSense is an unwieldy tool. Compared to its predecessor, the DualShock 4, it spreads inputs over a much wider area with a much heavier chassis. “The DualSense is just too big,” says Thomas Russell, a longtime gamer with spinal muscular atrophy type 2. “The biggest issue for me is that it’s too wide; it’s also too bulky.

Many gamers with disabilities report that due to the PS5’s reliance on DualSense, they cannot use their consoles as intended. Krissie A.—who wishes to keep her last name anonymous—is a reliability engineer. When using the DualSense, she says the size and spacing of the inputs cause her significant hand pain in just 20 minutes. “I haven’t been able to play any PS5 games,” she says, “resorting to watching my husband play the games instead.”

USB devices like the Titan 2 allow for easy connection to third-party accessible control tools.  But these tools are now banned on the PS5 in an attempt to limit cheating in online games.

USB devices like the Titan 2 allow for easy connection to third-party accessible control tools. But these tools are now banned on the PS5 in an attempt to limit cheating in online games.

The DualSense Edge may be a small step towards greater input accessibility, but, “for gamers like me who can’t use the DualSense, the Edge is unfortunately useless,” says gaming accessibility consultant Vivek Gohil.

It’s a problem that could be alleviated if PlayStation offered fully accessible control alternatives. But two years after the launch of the PS5, Sony has yet to offer its own accessible control product or allow mainstream third-party accessibility hardware to be integrated into the PlayStation 5.

Tools like the Chronos Max and Titan 2, which allows consoles to pair with other controllers and allows button remapping, provided workarounds for a while (although the added cost was less than ideal for a group of gamers who regularly with tight budgets). But in 2021, PlayStation fixed the flaws that allowed them to work, likely due to the association of tools with cheating in FPS games.

Input accessibility (and hardware accessibility, in general) doesn’t seem to be a priority for Sony. “I’ve played on Sony consoles since the first PlayStation,” says Krissie. “To be kicked out of a console because of my disability is a bit of a kick in the teeth, and, to be honest, completely unacceptable in 2022.”

Gohil tells me that without third-party tools, “I can no longer use my setup to enjoy PS5 games…I don’t feel respected as a gamer. If they don’t want to create a dedicated accessible controller, they should at least allow third-party device access.

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