Metaverse wants to be the future of social networks, and even the Internet. But by focusing on the visual, sound and immersive aspects, will they leave certain users out?
While social networks like I tweet and Instagram have recently introduced features to be more accessible to their disabled users, the topic still seems taboo on the metaverse side. Be it in terms of hardware or interfaces, there is still progress to be made.
Material that is still connected
The promise of virtual reality and metaverses is being able to experience immersive experiences, even putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Unfortunately, the material can quickly remind us of the “real” reality. Before we get to the disability, VR headsets are not very comfortable for people who wear glasses, which can cause problems with the alignment between the eyes and the screen. The weight – about 500 grams – is also an obstacle for people with neck problems, for example.
On the Meta forums, users have also expressed the need to be able to move in pairs, for example to drive a person with quadriplegic or Alzheimer’s disease in Horizon Worlds.
To navigate these virtual universes, it is necessary to be able to use both hands quite accurately, generally with a joystick. A formality for most people, but difficult, if not impossible, for users with limited motor skills in the arms or hands. An alternative to using the joystick is to automatically detect hands when they are in the field of view, but people with missing fingers have commented that the detection is less effective in this case. Their suggestion in the face of this malfunction: you can disable the detection of certain fingers in the settings.
Among other things, to overcome these shortcomings, some metaverses are also accessible on computers, tablets and phones, which makes it possible to use other more convenient devices. On the Meta forums, users have also expressed the need to be able to move in pairs, for example to drive a person with quadriplegic or Alzheimer’s disease in Horizon Worlds.
Unfortunately, most metaverses don’t communicate their accessibility settings, so it’s hard to know in advance what to expect. Horizon Worlds allows you to modify some of them, such as have all the audio on one side if the user has difficulty hearing on the other side, change the color display or even be able to move normally while sitting in the real world.
For metaverses to be perceived as true successors to social networks, it is essential that they are accessible to as many people as possible from their inception.
Roads are being explored for other situations as well. For people with blindness, how do you get that same feeling of walking through another world? In 2018, researchers at Microsoft developed a prototype called Kanetroller (for cane and CHECKcontroller), a haptic and audible white cane compatible with VR headsets that can detect obstacles in the virtual world.
While these functions are valuable, there are still some challenges to overcome. Automatic transcription is already rough for YouTube videos, but it’s even more so when it comes to transcribing real-time chats, like on Twitch or metaverse. However, this will be necessary so that people with hearing loss can understand what other users are saying. Likewise, live audio description of these virtual worlds for the visually impaired will likely be a complex feature to develop.
Be accessible from the start
If the basic utopia of the metaverse is to create a decentralized virtual world away from Gafam, there is a certain advantage that big companies like Meta and Apple are interested in it: they already have teams dedicated to accessibility and experience in the development of of this type. functionality. For example, Meta has published a charter and documents on accessibility for developers of immersive experiences.
For metaverses to be perceived as true successors to social networks, it is essential that they are accessible to as many people as possible from their inception. After all, these platforms can be a great help for people with disabilities, especially for remote work, to visit historical places that are normally not accessible in a wheelchair, or even just to meet young people. Virtual reality has also been presented for its therapeutic uses. By multiplying the parameters of use, making metaverses accessible will create an optimal – because customizable – experience for all users, whether they have disabilities or not.