Gaming is a popular pastime for members of the military, but injuries can introduce challenges to accessibility at time when many veterans need it the most. To help address those challenges, Microsoft has signed a deal with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to bring the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device designed to make gaming accessible for people with disabilities, to 22 VA rehab centers across the country.
The controllers, along with Xbox consoles, games, and other "adaptive gaming equipment," are intended to enable and encourage both therapeutic physical activities and "greater participation in social and recreational activities." VA staff will assist and "engage with" veterans using the equipment, and then provide feedback to Microsoft on the effectiveness of the program and "the veteran experience."
Along with the 22 VA rehab centers, the equipment will also be made available for use at events hosted by the VA's Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, including the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
"This partnership is another step toward achieving VA’s strategic goals of providing excellent customer experiences and business transformation," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said.
We took a look at the Xbox Adaptive Controller last year and found it to be a very effective accessibility device that came in far cheaper than other units offering similar functionality. "It’s the evolution of technology in an area few game companies have invested time and money," Steven Spohn, the Chief Operations Officer at AbleGamers, wrote for us. "While this won’t allow every single person with a disability to play a PC game without any additional help, the XAC will make getting people with disabilities back into the game a lot easier for organizations like mine."
The sad irony in all of this is that a society gripped by videogame-driven moral panic 25 years ago is now being forced to deliver accessibility aids through government agencies to enable people who weren't even born then to play games that will hopefully help them recover from the nightmarish traumas inflicted upon them by an endless war that was somehow seen as less threatening to those kids than a few rounds of Mortal Kombat. Which isn't meant to denigrate the obvious value of this partnership, but to invite a bit of thought about the tragic roots of its necessity and the ongoing vilification of videogames: How did we get here—and where do we go next?
More information about the VA's partnerships with Microsoft and other companies can be found through the Office of Community Engagement page.