Accessibility in VR

By Alastair Beeson

What is Accessibility?

There are over 1 Billion people in the world with disabilities, many of which pose barriers using technology. Accessibility or Ability To Access is the idea that anyone can access and benefit from a system or entity. It particularly aims to help those with disabilities or challenges through assistive technology. However, it can have benefits for all users and provide them with more options to customize and tailor their experience. In many countries, accessibility is legally required. Although the legislation is primarily focused on public areas and its enforcement on web and mobile applications is often inconsistent with many loopholes and definitions, many developers aim to be ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act compliant. In fact, several major companies like Netflix have been taken to court over a lack of accessibility options. Accessibility options also can encompass users who only have access to mobile devices, rely on poor internet connectivity,

The de facto authority in Accessible Technology is the Web3 Accessibility Initiative. They produce a number of accessibility guidelines for a number of different types of technology and resources to learn about accessibility. In fact their WCAG 2.0 guidelines are used by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in evaluating accessibility conformity.

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Why Is There A Need For Accessibility in VR and How Do We Evaluate Software?

VR can enable people to have new and unique experiences but that as it currently stands, VR is not an accessible platform. This includes issues like an overreliance on motion controls, requiring users to be in a specific position like standing or sitting, resolutions that don't work for those with vision issues, restrictive control schemes. Part of VR's accessibility issue is also that it is in its early stages as a technology and has not been widely adopted yet. Many VR accessibility solutions have been found by the open source and research communities but major headset manufacturers like Valve and Facebook have done little to implement them. Some users even find the process of turning on an Oculus and navigating to the store for accessibility options to be too strenuous or unaccommodating. With proper accessibility features, VR could enable those with disabilities to have new experiences they couldn't otherwise. Even if the headsets and their OS may not be the most accessible, VR applications can still aim to be accessible and anyone looking to develop VR software should familiarize themselves with Accessibility principles.

Since VR Accessibility is so underdeveloped, there aren’t many frameworks or resources for evaluating VR software according to accessibility principles. The best option is The XR Accessibility User Requirements, a rough draft document created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) who also makes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

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Read the wiki page on explaining and elaborating on the guidelines here: XR Accessibility User Requirements

Articles About Accessibility Challenges of VR

Accessibility Resources