PlayStation 5: The Accessibility Review

Accessibility has come a long way from the last generation of consoles to the new one. It’s easy to forget that in seven short years, ‘accessibility’ has gone from a barely recognized word in the gaming lexicon to it being a foundation of the next generation. The PS5 is a good example of years worth of accessibility efforts. The foundation is there, and there are a few holes to fill, but it’s functionally far better than what was available on the PS4 when it first launched in 2013.

Booting Up

These efforts are apparent from the initial boot-up of the system where the text-to-speech screen reader activates after 60 seconds, to help guide Blind players through the setup process. While this is not exclusive to this generation, the screen reader is now available globally and incorporates multiple languages. The screen reader works flawlessly, and all forms of text are readable, with the ability to adjust speed, volume, and voice type (male or female).

The Best PS5 Games

Diving Into the Settings

The PS4 had a good amount of accessibility options available, and Sony has carried those over to the PS5. In the accessibility menu, there are options that allow you to make the text bold or larger, invert colors, remap your controller, and turn vibration on and off. However, one key feature from the PS4 that is missing on the PS5 is the Zoom option, allowing the player to magnify the screen. Though not without its limitations – when enabled it would disable the use of most of the buttons on the controller and you couldn’t adjust the magnification – the Zoom option did help players like me with low vision or who are legally blind to use the system or play games more comfortably. Hopefully, Sony will bring this option back in a future update.

Options to help with color blindness are new to the PS5. You can now adjust the color blind type for Red/Green colorblind, Green/Red colorblind or Blue/Yellow colorblind. You can even see a color palette while adjusting these filters so you can adjust the intensity of each colorblind filter that would fit your needs.

The Cost of Maxing Out Your PS5

Another welcome addition to the PS5’s settings is ‘Game Presets’ that can be found in the Save Data and Game/App Settings menu. These allow players to set defaults for standard accessibility options in most games. Currently, you can set the game’s difficulty from Easiest, Easy, Normal, Hard or Hardest, or whatever the game’s version of those difficulties is called You can also set universal Performance Mode or Resolution Mode (again, if the game has those options) within these Presets options, switch between regular and inverted controls, turn subtitles on and off, and set the audio language to whatever language you prefer. These presets eliminate the need to do any of these every time you jump in a new game, which gives disabled players peace of mind knowing the game will have default standard options turned on right at the very start.

Audio

While we’ve enjoyed surround-sound headsets for a while, the integration of 3D Audio on the PS5 is a huge bonus for blind players when using Sonys new Pulse 3D Wireless headset (or any headset that supports 3D audio). In supported games, blind players can pinpoint with accuracy where an enemy is or where an item is in incredible audio detail.

With a little adjustment, the headphones will simulate surround sound for the player in most games that offer a high dynamic audio setting. I’ve tested this out in both Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and The Last Of Us Part 2 — which isn’t currently optimized for PS5, and the results are extraordinary. Knowing that Dina in TLOU2 is talking to me from just to my left and behind me; or that Underground baddie in Miles Morales is about to attack me from above and to the left truly made me feel like I was in the game. I highly recommend testing this out for yourself.

DualSense Controller

The DualSense Controller does pose a few challenges in functionality for disabled players. One major noticeable difference is how it feels in your hand: it’s larger than the DualShock 4, and heavier. It’s more akin to the weight of the Xbox Series X or Elite 2 controller. This means two things. Those with smaller hands may have a difficult time arranging your hand across the controller and having to stretch your fingers to reach the triggers or the touchpad depending on the situation. And for those who have a disability that affects their hands, such as nerve damage, joint pain, or tension, may have a hard time holding the controller for long gaming sessions.

Sony previously offered an accessory called the “Back Button Attachment” that would connect via the headphone jack at the bottom of the DualShock 4 and would comfortably fit around the back of the controller, which added the ability to have remappable pedals similar to the Xbox Elite 2 or the Astro C40 controllers. I personally used them to remap the L3 and R3 buttons to make it more comfortable than having to push down on the thumbsticks for example. This helps with finger fatigue in those longer gaming sessions. Unfortunately, because of the new size of the DualSense the attachment doesn’t quite fit. I hope Sony has plans on releasing an updated DualSense attachment.

The DualSense’s built-in microphone, on the other hand, is a big win for accessibility. For years, some players have found using the on-screen keyboard painful and difficult. But by using the DualSense built-in microphone, you can now use your voice for speech-to-text. For Deaf and Hard of Hearing players, you can enable chat transcription where incoming voice chat from your teammates can be converted into text. Conversely, your crew can hear your messages, but only if the feature is supported within the game. Currently, the transcription is not 100% accurate so you may get the odd sentence or two, but will hopefully improve with future updates.

Haptic Feedback & Adaptive Triggers

The big selling points of the DualSense, its Haptic Feedback and Adaptive Triggers, were originally a concern within the disabled community. On paper, adaptive triggers sounded like a cool way to immerse players into the action, but disabled players who have difficulty using their hands may have found the tension painful. Thankfully both the triggers and the vibration can not only be turned on or off, but their intensity can be tweaked to your liking. Even in games where those features are recommended, the system settings will override those games.

For Blind and Deaf / Hard of Hearing players, the Haptic Feedback and Adaptive Triggers provide an unprecedented amount of feedback and immersion within the game. You really can tell if you are walking on sand or on a metal surface, even if you can’t see it or hear your footsteps. For Blind/Deaf players, this additional level of feedback truly does make you feel like you are in the game, which couldn’t be achieved through visuals or sound alone.

Best PS4, Xbox One Games to Play on PS5 and Xbox Series X

Overall, the PS5 has some great accessibility features, but there’s potential for more. The screen reader, haptic feedback, 3D audio are wonderful, but I’d love to see the Zoom option return, and a potential solution for the weight of the DualSense. The Game Presets are a great start, but I’d also like to see them expanded upon as the gold-standard for accessibility options grows higher. The foundation is here, so let’s see what Sony builds in the future.

Steve Saylor is an accessibility advocate, consultant, and Blind Gamer on YouTube. You can find him at youtube.com/snowball or on Twitter @stevesaylor




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