Last year, Microsoft released its highly customizable Adaptive Controller as a way to further engage with gamers facing a variety of “limited mobility” disabilities. But a newly surfaced patent first filed in 2017 shows that the company was also looking into a braille-compatible controller aimed at visually impaired gamers.
Microsoft’s patent for a “braille chording accessory for a game controller” describes a device that would attach to the back of what looks in diagrams to be a standard Xbox One controller, adding “a plurality of paddles arranged as a braille cell on the housing, and a control circuit to translate a touch force applied to at least a portion of the plurality of paddles into individual braille characters.”
As described and shown, the device would contain a 3×3 grid of standardized braille dots that rise and fall to represent letters and numbers by touch. Thus, the accessory would “output a braille representation of any game text or any game audio occurring during the course of game play,” the patent suggests.
The patent also lays out exactly why this patent would be useful to the roughly 2.4% of adults that suffer from a visual disability, according to the National Federation for the Blind:
Some early games, for example, were text heavy, requiring the user to imagine the virtual world in which the game takes place by reading text, which often made the game inaccessible and excluded visually-impaired or blind users. Some of the greatest game improvements have occurred in the use of complex graphics. Games employing these complex graphics are challenging to use for visually-impaired or blind users since the accompanied audible feedback may only describe the game’s complex graphics in a limited manner through the use of screen readers. Although the gaming industry has made some progress towards improving a game’s general accessibility, a need remains for improved game controllers and accessories that address the very specialized manner in which visually-impaired or blind users interact with video games.
As EA Sports Accessibility Lead Karen Stevens laid out in a GDC talk last year, blind and visually impaired gamers have a long history of working out ways to play games that aren’t always designed with them in mind. “As long as they know they’re close, they can try,” she said. “It’s not as good an experience [as competitive sighted gamers get], but it is an experience. And having an experience is the most important thing.”
While there’s no public indication that Microsoft has any plans to make this patent into a real product, it would certainly be a logical follow-up to the accessibility focus of the well-received adaptive controller.