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SpecialEffect News

25 Oct 2018

How we're using the Xbox Adaptive Controller

So you’re a gamer with limited physical abilities, and you’re hoping that Microsoft's new Xbox Accessible Controller (XAC) could offer you the chance of playing some or all of the games you love on the Xbox One and Windows. But once you've got it out of its (accessible) box, how exactly can you use it to unlock your gaming potential?

In this article we’ll give you a steer by taking you through how we’re using the XAC here at SpecialEffect and flagging up some of the accessories and techniques we’re using to bridge the gap between the player’s body and the XAC itself.  

We’ve also made a bunch of videos to help. They’re peppered throughout this article and you can also find them on our YouTube channel, but if you’re just looking for an overview of the XAC, here’s SpecialEffect Occupational Therapist Frankie to show you what it is, and what it can do.

It’s worth saying at the start that everyone’s physical abilities are different and there’s a whole range of factors to consider when creating a custom gaming setup using assistive kit. Factors like seating, body positioning, lighting, cost, proper equipment mounting, comfort, robustness, integration with other tech like wheelchair control - they all play a big part. Getting a really effective gaming setup often takes time, patience, specialist input and plenty of trial and error, but hopefully this article will give you an idea of where we're finding the XAC is fitting into the mix.

Oh, and although we namecheck a bunch of accessories in this article, plenty of other products are available, including many in the growing selection of XAC accessories suggested by Microsoft.

What is the XAC?

Microsoft describe it as a hub for devices that helps make gaming more accessible. So if you can use assistive tech like a head-controlled switch, a sip-puff switch, a foot switch or a chin-controlled joystick, you may be able to plug it into the XAC and configure it to control your Xbox One or Windows 10.

The XAC itself has two large buttons (corresponding to the A and B buttons by default) on the top that can be remapped to any of your controller buttons, triggers, bumpers or joystick directions. It also has a D-Pad, and Menu, View and Switch Profile buttons. You can plug accessible buttons and sticks into the sockets on the back and the sides.

There’s been other great kit around for years that we’ve used (and continue to use) that works in a similar way to the XAC to let you create bespoke control setups, but the XAC is the first time a first party manufacturer has taken on the challenge. The result is a well-designed product that offers options such as wireless connection and first party support, and we’re excited to be using it.

XAC controller in front of a custom setup

Above: The Xbox Adaptive Controller with its two large buttons, D-Pad, Menu, View and Profile buttons. Here we've plugged in five switches to act as various controller buttons alongside a joystick.

Accessibility switches

We use accessibility switches or buttons to give people access to the equivalent joystick, button, bumper and trigger functions that you’d find on a standard controller. The size, type and position of each switch we use is carefully matched to suit the individual's movement and ability. As well as straightforward button switches you can get mouth-activated switches, foot switches, wobble switches, muscle-twitch switches, headrest switches, cushion switches... it's a long list, but generally speaking if a switch has a 3.5mm jack plug at the end of the lead, it should be compatible with the XAC.

Here are three switches we regularly use ourselves, although a web search will turn up alternatives to consider.

Three accessibility switches

Left to right: An Atec Ultra Light HD velcroed to a controller to replicate a bumper button, an AbleNet Specs Switch being fixed to a mounting arm, an AbleNet Buddy Button on a velcro-covered Maxess Switch Tray.

The Atec Ultra Light switch needs a relatively low amount of pressure to activate it so it’s useful if you have weak or limited movement in, say, a finger. The AbleNet Specs Switch offers a larger target area and requires more force to trigger it, so it’s useful for placing around the body as a knee or head switch, for example. The AbleNet Buddy Button requires a similar amount of force but it’s bigger, and we might use it as a hand switch for people with reduced motor control, for example.

Here's Frankie again, explaining how we use switches with the XAC:

Remapping with the XAC

You can increase the number of things you can do with your switches by remapping them through the Xbox Accessories App, either on Xbox One or Windows. This lets you use the switches for extra functions such as joystick directions which aren’t assigned by default, or use a switch like a shift key so you can double-up on the functions of others.

If you need your switches to do different things in different games, you can create up to three mapping profiles, which you can quickly change using the Profile button on the top of the XAC. Here’s how:

Using joysticks with the XAC

The XAC has a USB socket on either side to take compatible assistive tech joysticks for the left and right stick controls respectively. We use a huge range of joysticks to match a range of physical abilities, but one we’re currently using frequently with the XAC is the UltraStik analogue joystick. It’s useful for people who benefit from using a larger joystick and there's an option to buy it without the case and house it yourself.


Another larger joystick we are using is the XAC-compatible version of Pretorian’s Optima joystick. On the more standard-sized side of things, we've been using OneSwitch’s XAC Mini joysticks, which are available in a standard strength resistance as well as a lighter strength version. Both are housed in a box with a flat base which we mount for chin or hand access. The PDP One-Handed Joystick is also an option when a more standard joystick is required. This is handheld and includes a couple of buttons which can be mapped to controls to suit the player. Check the joystick list at the end of this article for a couple of other options.


Here's SpecialEffect Occupational Therapist Joe explaining how you could use the UltraStik in games like Sea of Thieves and Forza.

Another USB joystick we’ve started exploring is the 3D Rudder, a board you can use with your feet. To move a character forward you’d tilt the board forwards. To move left, tilt it left. Etc.

Using Copilot with the XAC

If you can use a joystick on a standard controller, you can link it to the XAC using Copilot, and substitute the other controls with switches via the XAC. Like this:

Force and Distance

Some people with limited finger strength find that even the sticks and buttons on a standard controller are too stiff to use. That’s when we’ll get the screwdrivers out and modify controllers ourselves to create lower resistance controls. Here's some instructions on how to do this as a DIY project. It's useful for people like Ryan, who has muscular dystrophy.

Evil Controllers also offer a lightweight controller, although we haven't yet tried it ourselves.

If you’re finding the distance between the buttons and sticks on a standard controller too great, you could try a smaller form unit like the Power A Mini Xbox One wired controller. Here we’re using one alongside the XAC with Buddy Button switches via Copilot. It's velcroed onto a Trabasack Curve Connect lap tray.

Mini joystick wired to an XAC


The most suitable switch or joystick in the world can be ineffective unless it’s placed safely and securely in the best position to use. Getting this right means using mounts that range from beanbag lap trays to specialist mounting arms. We’ll often use Velcro to fix switches to trays and surfaces, and for a really solid join we’ll use the heavier-duty Dual Lock. Sometimes we’ll try Dycem, a sticky rubbery material that gives grip without glue - also great for opening the tops of jars and bottles #lifehack.

Close up of Steve using a chin-controlled joystick

Above: Steve with SpecialEffect Occupational Therapist Gillian using a Manfrotto VFA  mounting arm to hold his Xbox Controller in firmly a position to be able to move the joystick using his chin. A Kontrol Freek joystick extension has been added for additional leverage.

To position a controller near someone’s chin we’ll most often use a Manfrotto Variable Friction Mounting Arm (VFA), which gives good flexibility of movement and a firm lock. We’ll also use this or a Manfrotto Light Weight Arm to mount a switch close to someone’s head, chin or other part of the body such as elbow or knee. We might also use a mounting arm to position a controller directly in someone’s hands to free up finger strength and movement.

Here's another video from SpecialEffect Therapist Frankie that digs deeper into the tools and techniques we're using to mount and position equipment:   

Aerial view of a laptop controller setup

Above: The standard controller sits on a blue Dycem Mat, accompanied by Ultra Light switches on an Ikea Byllan Tray.

The XAC itself has a number of mounting holes on its underside for compatible mounts, bringing its two large buttons into play - or to simply hold it out of the way.

Need to know more?

As we said at the beginning, the XAC can be used in a multitude of combinations with accessibility switches and joysticks, and we've just scratched the surface by talking about how we use it here at SpecialEffect. We’ll update this article as we try new kit with the XAC, but if your disabilities are stopping you from enjoying your gaming, contact us and we’ll see if we can help.




Standard Xbox One controller joystick (by connecting to the XAC using Copilot) 

UltraStik from OneSwitch or Quadstick

Power A Mini Controller (using Copilot)


DIY Xbox One Light Controller

Pretorian Optima Joystick (make sure it's an Xbox compatible version)


OneSwitch Mini Joystick

OneSwitch Mini Lighter Strength Joystick

PDP One Handed Joystick


Also available in some countries but not currently tested/used by SpecialEffect:

Evil Controllers Light Weight Controller

Logitech Extreme 3D Pro

Warfighter Engaged Joysticks


3D Rudder


Atec Ultra Light HD Switch

Ablenet Buddy Button

Ablenet Specs Switch



Ikea Byllan Tray

Trabasack Curve Connect Tray


Maxess Tray

Mafrotto Variable Friction Arm

Manfrotto Single Arm

Manfrotto Clamp


Mounting Plate

Heavy Duty Switch Mounting Plates


Mounting Extension Arm

Mounting Extension Arm


More Accessories

Compatible accessories on the XAC webpage


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