Scott’s Accessibility

Dr Scott Hollier sq

Immersive environments – virtual reality potential for seniors with disabilities

This month I thought it’d be interesting to share some international work I’ve been involved in that relates to immersive environments like virtual reality and its potential for seniors with disability.  In recent times we’ve seen significant improvements in the way operating systems have provided built-in assistive technologies. In the early 2000s a blind senior would have needed to spend several thousand dollars on a decent computer followed by several thousand more on a screen reader just to use it. Today whether its Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad or a Chromebook, there’s a great suite of features built into our every day devices.

By contrast, when we look at Extended Reality (XR) devices and their accessibility, they may or may not have some accessibility features depending on which device you choose. IN addition, their heavy reliance on motion controls and graphical 360 degree wizardry can make the enjoyment particularly challenging for seniors with mobility and cognitive disabilities.

VR googles

To try and address this my colleagues and I have developed the current international guidance on XR through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

Our group at W3C WAI has recently published The XR Accessibility User Requirements (XAUR) to help developers build accessibility into their products.. To provide some examples where XR could be of particular use, consider the possibility of a person with a cognitive or intellectual disability looking at confusing signage of shops in a mall, Through an XR device,  those signs could be swapped out in real-time with a symbol set that is easy to understand. If the person wants ice cream, they see an ice cream symbol in place of the shop name. if they want to find a toilet, the symbol is overlaid to make it prominent.  Another example of a use case discussed in the XAUR is for people who use sign language. In an XR environment such as virtual reality, the person signing could have a signing avatar that could translate all the information and sign to the user. In turn, the user could interact by signing back to the avatar in their first language. A third use case looks at a person who is deaf-blind where they could not only use a virtual Braille display, but interact with objects by touch such as feeling a sculpture in a virtual museum. All three of these scenarios provide accessibility far beyond the current web and could unlock even more potential – if XR is made accessible.

While all these things are possible right now, it’ll take a bit of time for developers and manufacturers to incorporate these into their devices. I’m hpeful though that with guidance such as the XAUR, it won’t be long before seniors with disability can enjoy the potential benefits that immersive environments can provide.  For more details on the XAUR visit this site.

Dr Scott Hollier
ASCCA Director – Accessibility

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