Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S Have a Subtle Design Feature for Accessibility's Sake

Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S Have a Subtle Design Feature for Accessibility's Sake

We used to do this on electronics more, and we should start doing it again.

The Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, with the exception of their eye-catching vents, are pretty plain looking boxes. That seems to be the point, of course—in contrast to the swoopy curves of the PS5, Microsoft's new consoles look like they'll quickly blend in with their media center surroundings. Take a closer look around the back, though, and you'll notice a subtle feature on both new Xboxes that may come as a godsend to many.

Bryce Johnson, inclusivity lead at Microsoft, recently spotlighted on Twitter that the Xbox Series X has tactile indicators next to all the ports on the console's back side. Without a close-up image they're quite hard to see; for his tweet, Johnson zoomed in on a photo that Famitsu took of its review unit. Kaitlyn Jones, a project manager on Xbox's accessibility team, replied with another image showing the same indicators on the Series S.

These small bumps are primarily intended to help the blind be able to better identify the various ports on the back of the new Xboxes. Microsoft isn't using an established tactile writing system like Braille here, so vision-impaired users will still need to know what they're feeling for: the AC power port is identified with one dot, the ethernet port has two, the USB ports have three dots, the SSD expansion slot has four, and the HDMI-out connection has a single pill-shaped indicator.

These tactile markers could also prove helpful for anyone who's simply trying to swap cables on their new Xbox without moving their console from where it's sitting. I've lost count of how many times I've tried feeling for a certain port when managing my PlayStation or Xbox cables, and just the other day I somehow managed to wedge my Switch charger cable into the USB type-A port on its dock. Having any form of tactile indicator on a console should go a long way, even if Xbox's new solution proves easy to misinterpret.

In the replies to Johnson's tweet, longtime Apple employee Chris Espinosa points out that old Mac computers used to have symbols for each different port embossed on the cases rather than printed, providing that same principle of tactile feedback. It's definitely a practice that could stand coming back in style, especially for larger electronics that aren't meant to be futzed with much after initial set-up. Right now, I'm looking at the haphazard array of USB ports on the back of my PC tower and fuming a bit.

If you go back and take a close look at the recently released teardown video of the PS5, you'll notice that Sony's new console lacks tactile indicators on its rear ports. Again, this is an accessibility concern that's been ill-served in tech of late, so that's not too surprising—plus, considering that the PS5 is quite tall and has all its rear ports in a row, it may be easier to feel out which one you're looking for than on the PS4. Here's hoping, anyway.

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Mathew Olson

Reporter

Mathew Olson is a writer formerly of Digg, where he blogged and reported about all things under the umbrella of internet culture (including games, of course). He lives in New York, grew up under rain clouds and the influence of numerous games studios in the Pacific Northwest, and will talk your ear off about Half-Life mods, Talking Heads or Twin Peaks if you let him.

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