Virtual worlds will soon be more inclusive places thanks to a major new push to make immersive technologies more accessible.
Spearheaded by Brunel University London and the University of Cambridge, the £600,000 project will investigate the barriers those with sensory, motor, cognitive or age-related impairments face when engaging with new technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), and deliver a set of software plugins enabling developers to simulate the impairments and create user interfaces that help overcome them.
“Inclusive design is about understanding what makes humans human – what are our needs, what are our preferences, our skills and our ability to adapt,” said Dr Vanja Garaj, Head of Design at Brunel.
“For us to really understand how VR and AR can be as fun and enriching for those with impairments as it is for those without, first of all we need to dig much deeper into what barriers currently exist and who it is that faces them.”
Funded by the EPSRC under the Digital Economy Investigator-led Research Projects call, the project – Inclusive Immersion – is inspired by Cambridge University’s Inclusive Design Toolkit, which since its launch in 2007 has become a worldwide standard in supporting product and service design for disabled and elderly users. The toolkit currently features a number of tools, such as gloves which simulate what it’s like to have arthritis and software which mimics what those with significant visual impairments would be seeing on screen.
“We plan on adding additional tools to that kit that will help developers better design their immersive experiences, from the ground up, with inclusivity and accessibility in mind,” said Dr Garaj.
“Not being able to see very well or having limited movement shouldn’t stop you enjoying this incredible emerging technology and we hope that the tools we create will not only help developers make their future projects more accessible, but also help inspire new ingenious ways for people to engage with VR and AR.”
Backed by partners including the Royal National Institute of Blind People and Open Inclusion, the project will cover broadcast, educational and gaming content, and will ultimately result in three plugins being developed for the hugely popular Unity development platform.
Tim Pilgrim, Media Relations
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