5 Ways Virtual Reality will be great for accessibility

Since I first tried it six months ago, I’ve been captivated by Virtual Reality. When I first tried a Google Cardboard, I could see it’s power. Then I tried on the HTC Vive and there was no turning back. I’ve now gone back to School and spent the last 10 weeks studying VR Design at Academy XI and doing an internship at Oceanic Studios.

I’m looking to change careers and move into VR, but there’s a part of my background I can’t forget. Over the last 15 years, web accessibility and inclusive design have been a focal point of my work as a Front End Developer. I still believe technology should be for everyone. VR is in it’s infancy and people are still working out the standards, which will no doubt bring some great features for people with disabilities.

Here are 5 ways VR will be great for accessibility.

Before I continue, it’s worth mentioning that VR will not “cure disability”. It is hoped that it might help at least make small improvements in the lives of people who are disabled.


Mobility

A wheelchair user working with the HTC Vive.

Being in VR means people with mobility issues can participate in environments they may not normally experience, giving them access to opportunities others take for granted. Haptic controllers, such as mouth movement, finger movement, could help people participate if they are unable to use traditional controllers.

Voice tools, such as Siri, or Amazon Alexa, could be used to give voice control to users.

NOTE: It’s important to consider when designing that people in wheelchairs will be lower in camera height and may not be able to reach high up objects.


Cognitive

An image of Dr Daniel Yang’s counselling environment.

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder could learn social skills that they might find difficulty grasping in real life. ASD can affect people’s ability to notice subtle cues in social situations. Smart VR apps could offer dedicated learning and work at the pace of the user, as they improve, using real life situations in the virtual space. It could be a job interview, a new neighbour or a blind date.

Dr Daniel Yang has been experimenting with online counselling for sufferers of ASD, solving the problem of long distance and also being able to take them to new environments at the click of a button.


Blindness

Occulus user with Haptic glove

Haptic interfaces can help users that are visually impaired. When they are unable to use a controller to accurately point, a glove that tracks finger movements could increase the usability of a VR app. This can help visually impaired people learn faster as they can interact with the experience.

Voice tools, such as Siri, or Amazon Alexa, could be used to give voice control to users.

Organisations such as the Web3D Consortium are trying to develop open standards, such as X3D, so that 3D web-based graphics can be integrated with HTML.


People who suffer strokes

Sufferers of strokes can have difficulty moving, thinking and sensing. This often results in problems with everyday activities such as writing, walking and driving. Rehabilitation can be a lengthy process.

VR can help with home based rehabilitation, for stroke sufferers, immersing them in the activities they will need help with.


Hearing

Due to it’s visual and immersive qualities, VR can be helpful to people who are deaf and hard of hearing, by providing visual cues.

Controllers can communicate sound effects to users, via vibrations, or haptic feedback, which is beneficial to all users.

Gloves such as Sign Aloud, can be used to communicate with sign language in VR.

Dialog in virtual reality applications is normally pre-recorded, so there is no reason why it can’t be converted into captions and sign language


VR is going to change the world. It’s important that we bring everyone along for the journey and make it inclusive. Many great minds are already working to achieve this goal and some of the above points might just help…