Click here for COVID-19 Information and Resources

Jan 17th 2020

Immersive Technology: Accessibility In Mind


wAVE Digital Project Administrator Apprentice, Ellie Smith, talks about voice control, day-to-day immersive technology, accessibility and virtual reality in her latest blog. Scroll down to read more on what she has to say.

If, like me, you’ve gone to the park in the pouring rain with your Pokémon Go app to catch Pikachu, or asked Alexa to play Beyoncé while you’re getting ready for work, then you’re one of the billions of people who use immersive technology everyday.

Now, as we welcome a new decade, the potential for immersive tech continues to grow. Bossing a digital voice assistant like Alexa around can make some of life’s small nuisances easier for an able-bodied person; mumbling “Alexa, turn the lights off,” when you’re too cosy to get out of bed or telling Google to put The Great British Bake Off on when you can’t find the remote for example! It’s estimated that 8 billion digital voice assistants will be in use by 2023. Clearly voice user interface (VUI) technology is going to become an increasingly commonplace part of many people’s lives.

What this really means is that people can now use their voice to control computers instead of a mouse or touch screen. A whole world of digital interaction is opened up to people with visual impairments and physical disabilities. Chatbots are, quite literally, opening doors. People are now able to use chatbots to control mechanisms throughout their home – this may be the back door opening when the dog barks or having the ability to adjust the heating with a verbal command. The capabilities of VUIs allows people with varying accessibility needs to further their independence just by using their voice.

We can also look to virtual reality (VR) to create a more accessible world. VR experiences can simulate access to spaces which may be otherwise inaccessible. Here in Cornwall, heritage site Geevor Tin Mine has created a 3D VR tour which has been developed alongside Heritage Ability and Soundview Media. Visitors who can’t physically access the underground part of the site will be able to access the space with a VR headset, an experience which is “as close to an actual tour as possible without it being the real thing.”

(3D VR Accessibility at Geevor Tin Mine. Image Accessed: https://geevor.com/news/3d-vr-accessability/)

VR is also being used to provide support for people with developmental disabilities, such as autism, to create an environment where people can safely gain an idea of what a space is like. Organisations can also make their sites more inclusive for people with physical accessibility needs by creating a 3D map of their site, with information about accessible routes and toilets, to ensure that disabled visitors are able to navigate the space comfortably. A company that advocates for immersive accessibility is Ocean3D™, which became the first business in the world without a physical premises to be awarded the National Autistic Society ‘Autism Friendly’ award.

At Cornwall Museums Partnership we champion accessibility and inclusivity. Working on the wAVE project has introduced me to the potential immersive technology has to make the world a more inclusive place. Though it is clear there is not one type of ‘immersive solution’ that generates accessibility for everyone, it is important that the capabilities of this technology are adopted by organisations around the world. As part of the wAVE project we are providing free immersive digital skills sessions across Cornwall, to help organisations create accessible and open environments for all of their customers. This may be learning about opening your space through 3D photography scanning with Ocean3D or the potential of immersive marketing with Soundview Media.

The growth of immersive technology shows no signs of stopping, and I hope the focus on accessibility continues to grow with it. Immersive technology is incredibly fun, but it can also provide greater freedom for so many people who live in a world designed without them in mind.

 

Ellie Smith

wAVE Digital Project Administrator Apprentice

 

Sources:

https://www.smh.com.au/technology/accessibility-will-define-technology-in-the-2020s-20191227-p53n4i.html

https://arpost.co/2018/02/21/augmented-reality-changed-life-disabled/

https://76engage.com/accessibility-2-0/

https://techcrunch.com/2019/02/12/report-voice-assistants-in-use-to-triple-to-8-billion-by-2023/

https://www.abilitynet.org.uk/news-blogs/8-ways-virtual-reality-could-transform-lives-disabled-people