The PS4 launched two weeks ago with much fanfare and fervor. And with it came the real beginning of the time period previously known as next gen. While the PS4 still exhibits Sony’s commitment to high-quality hardware, the question of accessibility needs to be looked at more in depth.
To begin with, within the operating system itself, players with hearing disabilities will have no problem whatsoever, since the sound that is used in the system is purely there as an add-on. An inability to hear will not affect the player’s use of the console.
For fine motor impaired gamers, the actual PS4 console and operating system are just as accessible, with one notable exception. The power and eject buttons are small and even hard to find unless you know where to look. For a humorous rundown of this issue, head on over to Game Informer. The good news is that once you turn on the system and pair a DualShock 4 controller to it, the need to use these buttons is greatly lessened.
The console itself and the operating system are perhaps more accessible than previous consoles for gamers with visual disabilities. This is because Sony has made a decision to require an HDMI port, which eliminates the issue of blurry text when using a standard definition TV. The system is not compatible with standard definition TVs.
Surprisingly, Sony has figured out a way to include more information on the PS4’s home screen without cluttering it up. When you turn on the PS4, you will be presented with tiles similar to those on the Xbox 360, except that they are arranged only horizontally and only including information about the games you play and the apps you yourself have installed. There are no ads. If you hit the up arrow on the directional pad or up on the joystick, you will access an interface that looks nearly identical to the XrossMediaBar from the PS3. This includes things like friend settings, network settings, and the PlayStation store. Below the game list that you are greeted with when you first turn the system on, you will see an interface that looks a lot like the wall on Facebook. Here you will see updates posted about what friends are doing as well as what’s happening in your favorite games, patches, DLC, etc. These blocks of text are clearly defined and easy to read. This three-part approach ensures that the operating system is actually more accessible than the previous system for gamers with visual disabilities.
Moving on to the controller, there is not much to say that we didn’t say in our preview, which we have included below. The few changes we did make are italicized in the text.
The first thing players will notice when picking up the DualShock 4 is the game’s built-in touchpad. Though the position of the touchpad and its size both seem to lean towards ease of access, when it comes down to gameplay, it’s perhaps a little too easy to access. On multiple occasions when I found myself using multiple fingers on each hand to control a game, I would accidentally hit the touchpad and bring up the touch interface. However, this problem is probably just a matter of adapting to the new hardware and figuring out how to hold it while not triggering that input.
Moving to the controller’s option and share buttons on either side of the touchpad, we come to one of this model’s only drawbacks. These buttons are very small and can be hard to press given their small size and stiff movement. There is also very little travel in the buttons, which can make it harder for gamers to tell whether they have actually pushed them or not.
Below the option and share buttons are the trademark parallel joysticks. The fact that they are parallel means that gamers with fine motor disabilities should be able to control both sticks with one hand. But there are some major differences between these sticks and those of the previous generation. The DualShock 4’s analog control sticks are shorter and sit on a smaller ball than its older brother. This means that the sticks have less travel—which could be a good thing or a bad thing for fine motor disabilities. The negative aspect is that, with minimal stick travel, games will most likely require more precision. On the upside, if a gamer has a limited range of motion in their fingers, they will not need to try very hard to get the full use out of the joysticks.
By far the most noticeable feature of the sticks is their textured finish and indented top. Whereas the DualShock 3 had mushroom-topped sticks which (despite their texture) were easy to lose hold of, the DualShock 4’s sticks include indented tops that grip the finger and make it easier for gamers to maintain a hold even when moving the sticks to their farthest extremes.
Between the joysticks is the signature PlayStation home button. While smaller than the home button on the DualShock 3, it is still big enough to push without requiring much accuracy.
On the left side of the controller is the traditional d-pad. Little has changed beyond ascetics. However, the directional buttons are now concave, allowing for a more secure grip when pressing them.
The buttons on the right arm of the controller are perhaps the only thing that has not changed at all from the previous generation. They still display an x, a square, a triangle, and a circle in four distinct colors. The buttons themselves have a glossy finish and do not offer much to enhance the grip (they are still convex and smooth).
On the front of the controller, there is a light that changes color in the context of the game and meshes with PlayStation Move applications. But since this is more aesthetic than anything else, it will have little impact on the controller’s accessibility.
On either side of this light, you will find the shoulder and trigger buttons. The shoulder buttons have not changed drastically from previous generations, beyond a slight shift in shape. The trigger buttons, however, are probably the most impressive change on the DualShock 4. Instead of being convex, easily allowing players’ fingers to slip off, the DualShock 4’s triggers are concave, allowing players to grip the triggers better. Add to this a more textured feel to enhance grip further, and the triggers become even more accessible.
Unfortunately, even though in our preview we had said that the triggers on the DualShock 4 were not at risk of being pressed when placed on a lap tray, this did not bear out in hours of testing. The controller still sits on the triggers, which means that players still run the risk of accidentally pushing them when playing with the controller on a lap tray.
There are also a couple of big picture features that affect the entire DualShock 4. Most noticeable here is probably the textured grip on the bottom of the controller. In addition, the handles at the back of the controller are longer and are weighted in such a way that even though the DualShock 4 is heavier than the DualShock 3, the DualShock 4 feels lighter because its weight naturally sits in the gamer’s hand rather than on the front of the controller. The DualShock 4 wants to stay in your hand—as if it were begging to be played—as compared to the DualShock 3’s tendency to pull out of your hand.
On the whole, there are more improvements to the system’s accessibility than there are problems for disabled gamers. Even though they exist, they are minor and should be easily overcome.