Accessibility, Disabilities, and Virtual Reality Solutions

Microsoft Cantroller example of usage for visually impaired in virtual reality.
What is it like to see for the first time? UploadVR reported the story of Jamie Soar who experienced seeing for the first time in 2016. Not because of surgery or some amazing medicines, but because he had donned a VR headset.

As the headset fired up its loading room demo Soar found himself in a state of shock. His whole life he had been forced to lean in close to computer screens, books, televisions, people, anything just to get a clear look. But inside this revolutionary new device, he discovered a world that was leaning in to him.

The unique technical design of a VR headset was having something of a counteractive effect to Soar’s Pigmentosa. These contraptions may be designed to provide the illusion of depth through special lenses, but in physical reality the screens they are employing are mere centimeters away from a user’s face. This, coupled with the dual-screen projection method of the Vive — in which every single image a user sees is actually two images relayed to separate screens in front of each eyeball — ended up being the perfect storm of factors to judo-flip Soar’s typical visual impairments and render his vision closer to normal than he had experienced in decades.

Accessibility issues are a top priority in education as educators are often on the front lines to ensure equal access to all, and few things are more profound than helping a student experience and see, literally and figuratively. In the United States, 40 million Americans are classified as disabled, 12.6% of the population. Disabled World reports that 15% of the world’s population has some form of disability, and estimates that 33% of 20 year-old workers will become disabled before reaching retirement age, which ties in with the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Report in 2018 stating 1 in 4 US adults have a disability that “impacts major life activities.” An estimated 200 million people globally are visually impaired, though World Health Organization estimates 1.3 billion people live with some form of vision impairment, the majority of them over 50 years of age. These numbers are considered under-reported estimates.

Virtual reality provides opportunities for many for socialization, adventure, and experiences they may not enjoy in the real world. Those with autism, social anxieties, and mental health challenges find comfort and safety in virtual social apps and experiences. Many visually impaired VR users discover they can literally see more than they can without VR, opening up visual worlds and experiences they’ve not been able to access in the real world. Alex Lee shared his story in ALPHR about seeing more in VR after losing his sight, quoting Gary Rubin, professor of visual funtion and rehabilitation at UCL:

“The closer something is, the more magnified it is. Placing two screens inches from your eyes is essentially making things larger by filling your field of vision. Additionally, the device will have automatic gain control, which will adjust and boost the contrast of the scene. Contrast is very important in making things visible.”

This was one of many inspirations for Educators in VR to bring you more meetups and workshops on accessibility in the future. We’ve been researching the various topics of disabilities associated with virtual reality and spatial technologies, from the perspective of learners, researchers, and educators, and want to share a few of our findings and discoveries with you. It is a vast topic, so please let us know what topics and areas of study you wish for us to bring to our meetups and workshops in the comments or on our Educators in VR Discord group. Continue reading

Educators in VR Meetup on Diversity and Inclusion May 2, 2019

The next meeting of Educators in VR in AltspaceVR is May 2nd, 2019. We have a fascinating panel of speakers for this meetup on the topic of diversity and inclusion in virtual reality and education and training, representing a diverse group of educators and passionate VR enthusiasts.

Brennan Gregory Halton is the co-founder of Equal Reality, a virtual reality developer and internationally recognized immersive technologies expert. Listed on the 2019 Forbes 30/30 Social Entrepreneurs, Brennan has over a decade of experience building augmented and virtual worlds. He helped grow Meta AR Glasses to a valuation of over $300M USD as employee #7. His company, Equal Reality, helps him focus on supporting equality, diversity, and inclusion through virtual reality, putting people in the perspective of minorities to experience discrimination. He is also talented in community building, teaching, and digital content creation.

Alan Chao is a user experience designer, virtual reality enthusiast, and Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) advocate. Alan works in technology as a User Experience (UX) designer and is the founder of the popular AltUX, the User Experience Meetup in AltspaceVR. He has also built some of the most popular interactive, and social worlds in AltspaceVR, including the beautiful meditation and yoga space for EvolVR classes.

Asha Easton is currently the KTN manager for Immerse UK. She is responsible for helping to grow the immersive tech ecosystem for the country. Asha is also a VR producer and an active member of several VR groups including: the London chapter of Women in Immersive Tech (WiiT) (Facebook), that helps to support women in the industry, and the VR Diversity Initiative (VRDI), where she has taught workshops to up-skill underrepresented groups in media and technology.

Dr. Peter Bloom is a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of People and Organisations at the Open University and Co-Founder of the research group REEF (Research into Employment, Empowerment, and Futures). His research focuses on critically reimagining contemporary power, politics and economic – specifically related to themes of democracy, capitalism, and technology.

We are very excited for this panel on diversity and inclusion, and welcome you to join us.

We meet in AltspaceVR, a free virtual reality social app and community. You may RSVP on our events page and AltspaceVR will send you a reminder an hour before the event. Alan has also built several worlds in AltspaceVR that attract a wide range of visitors, developing innovative virtual entertainment and meeting spaces.

You may attend as a guest or member using the free AltspaceVR mobile app or 2D version. AltspaceVR is found in the Google Store for DayDream, Samsung Gear, in the Steam Store for HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality, and the Oculus Store for Rift, Go, and Quest users. If you do not have a VR device, you may also install the mobile version for use on your Android phone or tablet, or the desktop computer version for 2D access. A headset and microphone (quality earbuds acceptable) is required to participate. Otherwise please stay muted during the event as the background noise and echoes can be disruptive. For more information on accessing and installing AltspaceVR, check out their download web page.