The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) working group recently published its first public working draft of the XR Accessibility User Requirements (XAUR). XR is an umbrella term to cover immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality.
F2L spoke with digital access specialist Dr Scott Hollier, who is a speaker at the ATSA Expo Perth in October, about XR.
The W3C was founded in 1994 by English engineer and computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee with an aim to develop web standards, the code behind web browsers to ensure the web works correctly. WAI was founded shortly after when it was realised that assistive technology (AT) products used by people with disability, such as screen readers, didn’t work on the emerging web.
“WAI has continued to develop web standards and guidance, and is best known for its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standard that continues to ensure that the web and apps work with AT,” Hollier said.
XR is an umbrella term to cover immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality.
“The reason XAUR was developed is because XR is such a new technology that accessibility implications are still catching up. We have clear guidance on how to make websites and apps accessible, and even gaming accessibility is starting to improve with accessibility features being included in popular consoles, adaptive controllers and in-game features, but XR accessibility remains an issue. The XAUR addresses this by highlighting common scenarios faced by people with disability in XR and how accessibility issues can be addressed,” he said.
People with disability face a variety of challenges in using XR. If a screen magnifier user has zoomed into a particular area to enlarge a small section of the XR environment it can get confusing as to where the person is in the vast surrounding XR environment. To resolve this, an on-screen map can be provided so the user can quickly identify how, what they are seeing, relates to the larger environment.
There are also inconsistencies between different XR platforms due to different manufacturers implementing XR in different ways. “To ensure a level of standardisation would mean that people with mobility impairment could easily use consistent hardware such as a customised controller or consistent commands, making interactions with the XR environment easier. The XAUR document currently highlights 18 different user scenarios and what developers can do to ensure that people with a variety of different XR interactions are able to effectively interact in the space,” he said.
The scenarios look at the XR uses of a variety of disability groups including vision, mobility, hearing, deaf-blind and cognitive disability so the guidance is effective in making the XR environment easier to use if implemented.
The group welcomes public input to provide additional guidance based on their own experiences to further improve how XR can be made even better for people with disability.
The XAUR draft is currently open for public comment so the group will look to see what feedback comes in and incorporate suggestions into the draft which is expected to be completed next year.
“XR is a very exciting space with the US Consumer Electronics Show in January demonstrating NextMind that can control elements of an XR space just by thinking about it, so once the XAUR 1.0 is complete, we’ll continue to monitor emerging technologies for potential future updates,” Hollier said.
He added that this is largely up to how the advice is used: “It’s our hope that the scenarios presented will help educate developers and manufacturers of XR hardware and software as to how people with disability engage with their products.”
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