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