VR accessibility literature summary

To the RQTF

As promised, I've completed the preliminary literature summary as it relates to VR and accessibility The literature that I initially selected was not as comprehensive as I had expected based on my keyword searches so there's plenty of scope to expand this research, especially with a more narrow focus on literature within the past 2-3 years.

That said, here is a broad summary of what I've found.

In relation to Virtual Reality and accessibility, there are essentially five categories that need to be considered in relation to developments in this area:

  1.  The broad benefits that VR can provide to people with disabilities
  2.  The APIs and underpinnings of the VR environment required to make the environment accessible
  3.  The use of software-based assistive technologies (AT) to support people with disabilities in their use of VR such as a screen reader or haptic interface
  4.  The use of virtual aids to support people with disabilities interacting within the VR environment, such as the use of a virtual cane to assist a person who is blind or vision impaired
  5.  A mechanism for designing content and testing/auditing the accessibility of the VR environment

Some notes:

  *   Most of the literature discusses VR and disability in terms of e-health and e-learning benefits. Some papers view this from the perspective of providing additional access to people with disability while others view it from the perspective of how people with disabilities can be better understood, e.g. medical staff being able to practice in VR on their interactions with a patient that has a particular disability
  *   The first significant discussion on the first point revolves around Second life. Examples include virtual regions developed according to Universal Design principles, communities dedicated to people with cognitive disorders, the use of the avatar as counsellor, and customizable personae that either transcend or represent a disabled person's self-identity. As VR continues to provide an immersive environment, more recent literature highlights its therapeutic benefits in a rehabilitation context. While our current literature collection doesn't discuss much about the progression from web and app accessibity to VR, there's evidence in the literature that research is moving in this direction as VR in an education context grows, and the importance of ensuring digital inclusion for people with disabilities.
  *   Ensuring that accessible APIs are present are only touched on in the literature but there are clear conclusions to be drawn from the significance of app accessibility and the multi-modal interfaces that can be used that incorporate the mobile platform into a VR environment such as Google Cardboard. In short, the accessibility of apps in the mobile platform currently have a direct impact on many of the lower-end VR solutions currently being used (i.e. using your own phone as a VR headset). The inference is that any VR solution must have accessible APIs for the software and AT in the VR OS to make use of it, as is the case with most desktop and mobile OSs.
  *   In terms of content design, its interesting that while WCAG is mentioned, many papers focused on creating their own set of universal design indicators to work out how best to make an accessible VR environment. Following up on some of these leads online I think the closest fit to the VR space is the AbleGamers Includification guidance https://www.includification.com/ While not all VR content is gaming, the real-time graphical nature of VR means that it is difficult to get WCAG apply whereas games have a lot more in common with VR apps.  As a bold suggestion for Silver there seems to be scope for guidelines possibly combined in the form of gaming and VR.
  *   Interestingly several papers explore the benefits of having virtual disability aids such as mapping a sonic cane from real life into VR with the same sound and tactile feedback. This appeared to work quite well and made people feel comfortable using the environment. The argument is made that if people are used to using wheelchairs and canes in the real- world, is it necessary to make people use VR without them?
  *   The final part of the literature is some papers that try to come up with mechanisms for testing the accessibity of VR but these are largely proof-of-concept with no easily estable criteria.

In terms of next steps, I'd recommend that the RQTF consider which of the elements above we want to drill down into and then perform a second literature review focusing particularly on these elements and particularly recent literature from the past 2-3 years. IMHO we don't have enough detail yet to create a recommendation but I'm hopeful that there's enough information above for us to do a more targeted search, leading to a more detailed and fully-reference recommendation. As always I'm happy to pursue this once the RQTF have decided on the areas of focus.


[Scott Hollier logo]Dr Scott Hollier
Digital Access Specialist
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Received on Friday, 18 August 2017 07:02:36 UTC