XR software and applications have progressed tremendously during the last few years, in terms of sound and graphic quality. However, developers have constantly overlooked a critical aspect in building enterprise or personal use apps: accessibility for users with disabilities. Now, on the 75th anniversary of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month, celebrated in October, the XR Association (XRA) made a significant update to its guidelines to include this aspect.
The New Guidelines for XR Software Push Towards a Higher Adoption Rate
Before we cover the key points included in the new guidelines, it is important to discuss the implications of this decision. The XRA is a non-profit organization that “promotes the dynamic growth of the XR industry.” Association members include some of the biggest manufacturers of hardware for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality.
The new update to its guidelines, titled “Accessibility & Inclusive Design in Immersive Experiences,” is available as a standalone document. It contains detailed best practices for all the categories of disabilities. Thus, developers have an actionable list of features they can incorporate in the UX and UI of XR software.
Basic Guidelines for Making XR Software Accessible
The introduction to the new guidelines states that its authors collaborated both with disability advocacy groups and with individuals with disabilities to elaborate the document. The authors encourage developers to include these stakeholders in the process of designing and testing new XR software and rely on their input in order to:
- Offer all users comparable experience;
- Give all users full control over the experience, in all its aspects;
- Promote equal chances at the workplace when XR enterprise applications are in use;
- Create XR enterprise software that complies with national standards for inclusion and equal chances for people with disabilities.
The XR Association Recommendations in Detail
The new accessibility guideline contains recommendations for five categories:
- General accessibility;
- Visual accessibility;
- Auditory disabilities;
- Mobility disabilities;
- Cognitive disabilities.
Here are some of the key guidelines published by the XRA.
XR software needs to provide accessibility features that involve either adding or reducing various parameters that allow users to interact with the software in the intended manner. These parameters are:
- Removing and/or reducing visual background details and audio;
- Undo/redo functions;
- Reducing speed;
- Setting up action sequence;
- Saving progress;
- Bypass functions.
For visually impaired persons to be able to interact with XR software and apps, developers need to provide the following accessibility features:
- Changing the size of objects, text, and other graphic elements;
- Text-to-speech and audio augmentation functions;
- Color filters and symbols;
- Translucent gradients making text easier to read against backgrounds containing textures, pictures or various colors (scrim-like overlay).
The authors of the guidelines suggest that deaf and hard of hearing users will need:
- Captions for audio elements;
- Special icons to identify audio features;
- Sign language input;
- Mono audio.
Users with mobility impairments need to be able to physically navigate an immersive environment in a safe manner, taking into account their restrictions. These accessibility features include settings and menu options that allow them to:
- Have the app assist them with navigation;
- Use special controllers or sensors;
- Access the experience from a stationary, seated, or reclining position;
- Automate certain actions;
- Map sequential steps and perform them by a single action;
- Use alternate controllers, including dynamic foveated rendering and eye trackers.
Users with cognitive or learning disabilities will be able to enjoy the full experience of XR software by implementing accessibility features such as:
- Reducing sensory or information overload;
- Receiving assistance for orienting themselves in the immersive environment;
- Receiving more context about the progression in the app, the tasks they need to perform, and the goals they should achieve;
- Adding in-app reminders and prompts;
- Configuring and/or reducing the number of controls needed to navigate the app.
What These Guidelines Mean for the Future of XR Software
Making XR software, games, and apps more inclusive means that the potential market for both hardware and content will increase. At the same time, it is a movement towards democratizing the immersive experiences industry by making it available to all users, free of limitations.
As one of the key figures in elaborating the guidelines, Larry Goldberg, Head of Accessibility at Verizon Media said, “The XR Access Initiative was formed to help ensure all voices were heard – across multiple stakeholder groups – in order to develop and advance a shared vision for the inclusive design and accessibility in XR technologies.”