SightlessKombat Logo


Steam. Probably the biggest PC distribution platform and the most well known to many gamers for decades. For years, Valve have been getting into the hardware market with various endeavours like the Steam Machine and Steam Controller (both of which hav faded from view in the last few years), but it seems like they've finally found a comfortable balance between PC and handheld with their newest offering, the Steam Deck.

In the age where the PlayStation and Xbox consoles both have narrated interfaces though, just how does Valve's handheld alternative stack up as a gamer without sight?


The Steam Deck (SD from here on out) doesn't actually come in a retail box with Steam Deck on it as you might expect. Instead, it's just contained in an outer shipping box. Inside said box though, once you cut the seal with a blade of some kind, you'll find a large card with simple instructions (literally just stating "plug in, power on").

Underneath this, you'll find a case with a sleeve wrapped round it that has the words "your games are going places", "Steam Deck" and of course "Valve" and various other pieces of information like the contents of the box and Valve's address. Having opted fo the highest tier model possible, the case I received was a streamlined design, though if you purchase a model with less storage your design may be different.

In a much smaller box to the left you'll find the power supply (a USB C one if you're curious) and a cleaning cloth sealed away in plastic wrapping. Though I don't explain how to open these here, in a rare moment of triumph, this should honestly feel pretty intuitive, even for newcomers to unboxing.

And that's pretty much it. A straightforward unboxing for a straightforward piece of equipment. But how accessible is this out of the box?


With Sony and Microsoft's own console offerings releasing in 2020 containing accessible interfaces for gamers without sight, I'd have hoped that Valve might've followed suit with their own console equivalent. However, much like the Nintendo Switch before it, the SD has nothing in the way of screen reader functionality or a narrated interface of any kind, in spite of it running on a version of Linux (an operating system which does in fact have accessibility in at least some distributions in the form of Orca).

Consequently, after getting sighted assistance to set it up and verify that a game would run on it, namely Blind Drive, as well as that the accessibility in the game's menus did not function under Steam OS, I resorted to measures that might seem drastic but are actually quite commonplace: installing Windows.

Windows On Deck

Installing Windows on to what is pretty much a PC in the form of a larger Nintendo Switch with non-detachable controls was at times an arduous task, but that's mostly because the device doesn't have the correct audio drivers installed by default to perform an accessible install. Whilst you could, theoretically, hook up an audio device, keyboard and ethernet cable to a USB C hub, that doesn't mean it'll all work right away if at all if Windows doesn't support them as a part of the installation environment.

Consequently, yes, it's back to following various sets of instructions alongside the trusty and long-utilised method of sighted assistance to get things going. Having done my research in advance as best I could, after a couple of hours I had Windows, NVDA (through Narrator) and Steam installed, all with Valve's official drivers running in the background.

What I hadn't recognised, unfortunately, was the issue that the media creation tool would wipe all data from the drive I'd used to install Windows on it. Fortunately, from what I could tell at any rate, there wasn't any data that I couldn't get back on there, though if Steam OS were accessible in the first place, this headache would've been null and void entirely for any gamer without sight, not just me.

With the initial frustrations of installing Windows and getting things up and running out of the way, it was time to start installing things.

installing Items

Though you can use a touch screen with NVDA and yes, it works to a certain extent, I didn't find it to actually be that responsive when sliding my finger around the surface and trying to find items I thought would be easy to click. However, plugging a keyboard in, as you might expect, worked wonders and I was able to install and log into Steam with next to no problem as previously stated. Logging in is now much easier with recent accessibility updates to the client, meaning no need for multiple launch parameters in a specific user created shortcut.

I also discovered that Steam's Big Picture mode had some accessibility in a beta branch at the time, which allowed things to feel similar to the native version of Steam OS by letting you move around a grid of options, press the onboard A button on the controller to activate things, etc.

If installing programs, games etc was so straightforward though, how did the device perform under load?

Running Games Blind Drive was my first point of comparison given that I'd tested it on Steam OS previously and, as expected, once I fired it up, everything spoke as you'd expect on a standard Windows PC. The DPad of the Deck seemed to work fine here, but I wanted to put it through some more rigorous testing too.

I next moved to a more recent release, the then newly accessible Brok The InvestiGator from CowCat games. I had a great time playing this on the SD, given that it was just as snappy as my rig I'd normally run on. The small speakers built into the device produced a surprising amount of sound, with the volume controls allowing me to boost said audio levels to surprisingly high ranges, whilst still maintaining clarity.

Killer Instinct was next, normally I'd start with this first, but it's historically a well-optimised port that has run well on anything I've thrown it at that has a proper GPU and thus I did not expect the SD to struggle.

The game, unsurprisingly, ran very well and smoothly on the device, unplugged and with headphones connected I wouldn't have been able to tell that this wasn't on Xbox, but that brings me to the next point of discussion, the controls.


The Steam Deck is designed much like a Nintendo Switch, in that the left and right-hand sides of the screen have a controller element. However, whereas both of Nintendo's Joy Cons have 4 buttons and an analogue stick as well as a bumper and trigger assembly, the left-hand part of the Steam Deck contains instead a directional pad (DPad), much as you might find on Xbox devices.

For fighting games, I've always advocated that if you can, you should use the DPad as that provides greater precision and consistency. However, though the Steam Deck's DPad is good for 4-way movement (i.e. the kind you'd find with arrow keys), unfortunately I didn't find its diagonal movement to be as viable, especially when there's no way to easily move your hands as you would on a standard controller because the device's screen gets in the way.

That being said, I am aware you can connect Xbox Series or other controllers to the unit, thus making for a more pleasant experience and the game performed amazingly irrespective of that inconvenience.

The Last Of us Part I

TLOU Part I released in a rather patchy state (update-related pun intended) on PC, but I thought I'd test it out on the Steam Deck anyway. As much as I had to bump everything to low settings, the accessibility worked out of the box and the game, when it did eventually load, seemed to play well. That being said, due to running this on Windows and not on Steam OS itself, the noise the Steam Deck did make (prior to me installing any additional community developed regulatory software) was rather unsettling if I'm honest.

Community Software




  • No accessibility natively, had to install Windows with sighted assistance to achieve this
  • Without Steam OS' own tweaks, the device was louder than anticipated during gameplay
  • Under Windows, additional software was required for certain games to run with onboard controller support
  • Conclusions

    The Steam Deck is a very interesting device, in that it at once affords numerous possibilities, but also is massively restrictive in an accessibility sense unless you jump through the hoops of installing Windows, at least as a gamer without sight. However, with Big Picture mode in Steam being Partially accessible with NVDA on Windows, it does pose the question of what would happen if Steam accessibility efforts turned towards making Steam OS accessible natively and how much that might improve the experience and ease of use of the device.

    Hooking up a Braille Display to it also was a useful idea that I thought I'd try and, whilst this might not be an option for all, having it work with NVDA like this could also allow it to serve as a laptop substitute in terms of documents as well.

    Though the Steam Deck is an expensive investment, including the time it can take to install and troubleshoot Windows, if you have the assistance to get set up with one, I would recommend at least giving it a shot. After all, this is a machine that is smaller than a laptop that can, at least from my tests, run games at solid performance levels, at least in the audio department, as well as other applications like Discord etc for portability if you wanted to go that route.

    As a gamer without sight, however, I'd also keep your eye on the Asus ROG Ally, which I've heard some people have had success with from an accessibility standpoint. Rest assured, if I'm able to get hold of one, you'll have my thoughts on that too, and some comparisons as well.

    Back to the main reviews, guides and articles page