Considerations for Virtual, Mixed, and Augmented Reality
8/20/2020 9:00:00 AM
By: Jennie Delisi, Accessibility Analyst, MNIT’s Office of Accessibility
While virtual, mixed, and augmented reality are terms we may recognize in relation to video games, TV shows, or coming from a teenager, the technologies are spreading into a more everyday use in our lives. More workplaces are adding them into our work environments as part of:
Most people are familiar with virtual reality (VR), which is a computer-generated simulation or re-creation of a real-life environment or situation. VR does this through visuals, sounds, and sometimes through sensations like vibration. Sounds can seem to originate from different locations with 360-degree views.
Then there’s augmented reality (AR) – the layering of computer-generated images on top of existing reality. For example, when watching a football game on TV, the first-down line is overlaid on the field using AR.
AR and VR are not mutually exclusive technologies, which led to a new term, extended reality (XR) to describe all combinations of AR and VR. Implementations of XR will provide more inclusive experiences for employees, as well as pose some accessibility challenges.
Mixed reality could provide ways for new employees to get to know their colleagues, which would be especially helpful for some starting a new job while working remotely. Before a new employee webinar, as attendees arrive, they could meet in a virtual room. They can casually chat as they would at an in-person event. Or, they could complete certain virtual activities, such as a scavenger hunt, in small teams.
Those who learn by doing could interact with tools and technologies from afar. For example, individuals could use computer simulation in a shared online space to learn how to operate machinery which usually requires the students to be next to the teacher.
Such environments could also help some teachers show a student a complicated process. Some students learn better when the teacher can “physically” point to something, especially when the information can be reviewed in two different applications. For example, when teaching someone how the tags in a PDF correspond to the content in a Word document. You may move back and forth between the two applications and want to display them side by side. “Pointing” to the information on each application will help some students better understand the concepts, know where the teacher would like them to focus their attention. This may help when learning how components or concepts flow together. In this way, XR can save time, by reducing the need to create detailed and accessible screenshots and instructions. It can be more like the side by side training we gave at people’s desks in the past.
Some people with disabilities are excellent trainers. With XR they could train employees on how to use equipment or technology even if the trainers would not be able to use that equipment outside of the virtual space.
As part of the XR Access Symposium I attended in July, I got to learn more about these types of experiences. I also got to try out some technologies for myself. The symposium provided experimental virtual rooms that attendees could join using a mobile or a desktop device. These rooms enabled us to:
Some attendees had disabilities, others did not. The event hosts set up both large- and small capacity rooms. They also had rooms with audio description and others that provided American Sign Language. One goal was to give those newer to accessibility an opportunity to experience an inclusive session. The other was to let people try out some of the accessibility features in development.
Speakers shared considerations for universal design and accessibility principles:
For those that would like to learn more about XR, find great resources:
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