PS5 provided courtesy of Sony for review purposes.
Accessibility and PlayStation are not two words that feel like a natural pairing in my mind. Not because Sony isn’t making gains in creating accessible experiences—one need only look at The Last of Us Part 2 to see that—but because Sony doesn’t do the PR work to tout their accessibility innovations. It is for this reason that my first several hours with the PS5 left me shocked to see just how much work they’d put into making the newest console an inclusive platform for disabled users.
The unboxing (which can be read about in-depth here) was a rather inaccessible experience but once the console is powered up, users are greeted by a fresh new UI that feels good to explore. It was a brand new (and speedy!) experience yet familiar enough to remain comfortable for those coming over from previous generations.
Everything players are likely to need that Sony wants you to see, from their most recently played games, available games, and related news is at the ready on the home screen. And in a departure from the PS4, launching your library of games doesn’t take you to an entirely new screen, rather it pops up as a seamless continuation of the home screen.
A fantastic new feature blind and low-vision players will benefit from is the improved screen reader which, on first launch, if the user doesn’t do anything for a brief time, the screen reader function will automatically turn on for users, allowing players who rely on screen readers to explore the new system on their own and at their own pace.
The DualSense Controller
Before I get more into what I love about Sony’s next gen system, let’s address the thing that I hate; the new controller.
Many in the disabled community were anxious about the DualSense with its haptic feedback and adaptive triggers though once Sony confirmed that both can be turned off in system settings, fears were abated. However, the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers are not the only issues with the DualSense. The sheer size and weight of the controller will be a barrier to many, myself included. I can’t help but assume that the controller was designed by people with giant hands and never so much as touched by those of us with small hands before launch.
The main issue I take with the DualSense controller is the way I am forced to contort my hand to use it while trying to support its weight to prevent wrist strain.
After several hours spent exploring the PS5 and a variety of games to get a feel for all its shiny newness, like Chandler, I, too, was left with The Claw. The Claw happens after a brief time in which my pinky is trying to support the controller at the bottom (which is uncomfortably angular; see the above controller image) while my index finger stretches to reach the triggers and my thumb stretches well beyond what is comfortable to reach the stick and the touchpad. There is no comfortable way to use the controller in its entirety for small-handed people or those with limited grip strength without setting it on your lap instead of holding it.
In addition to the comfort problem, there is still an issue with the triggers. There’s too much tension, even with the adaptive feature turned off, to not cause finger strain for players with joint pain or limited strength. Please pardon my poor explanation of physics here (or whatever math thing this is), I’m a writer, not a mathematician.
The triggers are short, as they were on the DualShock, leaving them feeling much tighter than the triggers on an Xbox controller and not evenly balanced. Less trigger area means greater trigger tension is required to achieve a full pull (math!). Pair this with how much one must reach to pull the triggers and it’s a nightmare for my small, pained hands.
The second hand stretching issue I faced with the DualSense was the touchpad. While the function and design of the touchpad is essentially the same as that of the DualShock, the size of the new controller is the root of the problem. (If you enjoyed my explanation of physics, you’re sure to enjoy this next exploration of hand anatomy.) While holding the controller and trying to reach things, that little fatty, squishy area on my hand, the spot between my thumb and index finger, was stretched to the point of being neither fatty nor squishy.
Not only did this cause the squishy little muscle there to cramp rather quickly, but it also left my thumb joint that connects to my hand very sore (if the Skeleton Dance song is playing in your head now, you’re welcome). The squishy bit is not meant to be stretched that much for that long and after 10+ hours with the controller, I can’t help but imagine repeated use will result in a stress injury.
Now all of this isn’t to say that the DualSense isn’t simultaneously accessibility gold because it absolutely is. Or it could be if there was a smaller DualSense available. The new features are simply brilliant. In games that have been designed or optimized for the PS5, the haptics are put to astonishing use. In Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales there is subtle yet distinct feedback for nearly everything. In one instance, there was the ting or a spring springing in the game, and mirrored in the controller was a vibration so specific it was unmistakably a spring springing. In Miles Morales players can also select from standard vibration or accessibility vibration, in which the controller provides subtle feedback for things like collectibles or locations requiring more in-depth exploration. These features that would have resulted in constant and annoying vibration in the DualShock just feel nice in the DualSense.
For all of these reasons, I’m certain that I won’t be the only one with a very complicated relationship with the DualSense controller. While it will severely limit the playtime I can allow myself, it will also provide everything I never knew I wanted in terms of controller level accessibility.
With the controller out of the way, we can move on to what’s great concerning the PS5’s system-level accessibility—everything. Beyond the slick new look of the home page is a familiar yet vastly improved suite of options in the system settings.
A stand-out feature, and one that will assist screen reader users in a way no platform has before, is the PS5 screen reader feature. Upon powering up the console for the first time, if users do nothing for a period of time, the screen reader will automatically turn on.
Users can also toggle the screen reader feature on, as well as select voice type, speed, and volume within the accessibility settings.
Players will find many of the same options that the PS4 had including invert colors, larger and bold text, button remapping, and closed captions for media. The only feature present on the PS4 that is not on the PS5 is the zoom feature, which may prove problematic for those who relied on it, despite the large and bold text options.
New in the controllers menu are all the options to customize the DualSense, including the option to turn off both vibration and the adaptive triggers.
By far my personal favorite among all the new options is the game/app settings. Here, players can select options previously only available within each game’s menu. For players like me who always play on easy, always use subtitles, and even those who always have a preference for resolution or performance, you can now choose those options at the system level and never have to worry about digging through game menus again! While I was only able to test this particular feature in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, I can report that it worked perfectly.
The home screen is among the things that got a major facelift for the PS5. As I mentioned above, it houses everything users would expect to find, from recently played and upcoming games, to news and Sony events.
Navigating the home screen feels seamless and my attention span and patience truly appreciate how Sony has smoothly integrated the game library into an extension of the home screen as opposed to entire new apps users have to find and open.
The screen for each game in a player’s library also got a makeover, along with the brilliant new feature that allows players to select in-game activities, like Miles Morales’ Traversal and Combat challenges shown above, and jump right into them in the game.
Much to my enjoyment, the create button has also been revamped for the PS5 and it, too, has customization options. Default options for the new create button are press once to bring up the create controls, press and hold to take a screenshot and press twice to record gameplay. The “Easy Screenshots” format swaps the press once and press and hold choices, allowing for quick and easy screenshots for people such as myself who take them often.
It seems that Sony took the lesson from Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part 2 in that a breadth of options is key for improved accessibility. On the PS5, players will be able to enjoy speedy and stunning gameplay while being able to design a play experience best suited to their needs. While players with small hands, hand pain, or limited grip strength will most definitely struggle with the new controller, overall, Sony has produced their most accessible and most customizable console and UX to date.