History of Adaptive Tech

A royal blue roundish blob background small orange circles on top and on top of that a photo of a little boy laughing in a red t-shirt playing a video game using an adaptive controller while his little brother looks on
AbleGamers Logo, which is an image of joystick

Despite its stunning popularity today, video games weren’t always so mainstream. In fact, at its outset in the 70s, the video gaming industry was a small niche market trying to grow its customer base and introduce the world to its technology and stories. As a result, a small-yet-devoted community began to emerge, and people with disabilities saw the immediate value of what the video gaming community could offer them. As such, video game developers and companies began to focus on accessibility in their software and cultivating adaptive technology solutions to promote their companies and games in the press.

AbleGamers has spent the last sixteen years creating change via direct advocacy and action in the industry, fighting to remove the barriers to gaming that people with disabilities experience.  Today, the major wins for accessibility that we’ve witnessed over the past decade prove that the industry is undergoing a transformation that welcomes people with disabilities to the community.

Picture of A Classic Edition Nintendo NES

A Timeline Of Adaptive Technology In Digital Experiences: 

1986: Nintendo’s Hands Free controller for the NES is the first piece of mainstream accessible technology in the video gaming field.

1990s: Closed-captioning and audio descriptions become widespread in new media, movies, and TV shows.

2007: First iPhone released, App Store democratizes game and application development.

With the arrival of the iPhone and its App Store, which enabled independent developers to develop an app or game and upload it to the App Store to be experienced by everyone.

September 2009: Playstation 3 adds button mapping in version 3.1 of the Playstation OS.

This was the first example of consoles adding accessibility features at the OS level. Button mapping allows for users to remap, reorder, or reconfigure the input actions of buttons on their controller.


October 2010: Video Communications Act passes, providing little concrete regulations for the video gaming industry, and AbleGamers shifts its long-term advocacy.

Most legislation focusing on adaptive technology or media accessibility focuses on TV shows, radio, movies, and other media. The VCA gave a limited and insufficient scope of accessibility guidelines for the video gaming industry. AbleGamers recognizes that legislation-based change is not trickling down to the industry and starts an advocacy-driven and action-oriented accessibility movement that directly lobbies and influences the game industry. 

2011: AbleGamers and Evil Controllers team up to create the Adroit controller.

For the first time, a controller with switch based inputs is mass produced. The Adroit was  designed for the Xbox 360, but with the use of adapters could be used on PlayStation or Nintendo Consoles, as well as PC. 

2014: Borderlands 2 adds a colorblind mode in a patch to the game.

This update is the direct result of people with disabilities rallying for inclusion. 

2016: Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 revolutionizes accessibility options and how they are presented to the community.

This Playstation-owned studio prioritized accessibility and the inclusive experience a user has from Gameplay to UI. 

2016: Xbox adds options for assistive tech representation in their Xbox Avatars.

Xbox Avatars have always been an important part of the Xbox Ecosystem and the connections that players make to one another. Xbox Avatars represent a players gaming experience and fandoms to the greater Xbox community, and adding in additional items like assistive technology are important features for players who want their avatars to represent themselves. 

2018: Microsoft Adaptive Controller (XAC) is released.

With the help of AbleGamers and other organizations in the disability space, Xbox releases the Xbox Adaptive Controller.

2020: AbleGamers certifies 113 developers as accessible player practitioners, promoting accessibility at major AAA studios.

After kicking off the certification program in 2019, AG certified 113 developers as certified accessible player practitioners. These accessibility specialists create real internal change inside the industry internationally, creating rich and accessible experiences in games and consoles that can be enjoyed by people with disabilities and the gaming community at large. 

AbleGamers has spent the past 16 years focusing on supporting people with disabilities and driving action-oriented advocacy within the gaming industry. We know that people with disabilities are a central part of the video gaming community and the industry’s success. The more accessible ideas and adaptive gaming technology solutions that we get implemented, the more we set an industry standard and change the conversation around inclusion for people with disabilities.