Rise Of Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are key terms in te world of gaming and technology right now. Companies are continuing to develop realistic worlds and attractive headsets. Such as the Oculus Rift and to improve the experience for users.
One demographic that can benefit from a rise in VR is the disabled. The problem is that these headsets and opportunities need to be affordable and accessible for them to benefit. Some companies are looking at this audience in a new light, with some impressive results.
Virtual Reality Gives The Disabled A Way To Enjoy
There are some great stories about the potential of Virtual Reality for the disable. One such example comes from the Future of Virtual Reality event at Singularity University. This showcase of technology contained a surfing simulator from Specular Theory and was visited by a wheelchair user with muscular dystrophy.
The story of his experience in the virtual world is heartwarming. He had gone from disabled surfing, where he can just lie on board, to virtual surfing where he felt as though he was standing up and riding the surf just like anyone else. This technology provides a sense of escapism and joy for people that struggle to enjoy these experiences in real life. For that one virtual moment, they are not disabled.
Big simulators and experiences like this are great for people that can travel and spend the time and money at conventions. But what about the disabled people that are trapped at home. They don’t have the freedom of movement to take that step?
The rise of simple headsets means that VR and AR are now making its way into the homes of the average user. This means that games, apps and other tools can be enjoyed from the comfort of the sofa or even in bed. The latter could be crucial for making VR accessible to the disabled.
Disabled-Friendly VR Tools Are Worthless If They Are Not Accessible And Affordable.
The aim with all of this accessible technology is to make disabled-friendly gadgets more affordable for those that need it. A blind person, for example, should have the freedom to take on new gadgets that might help them to interpret the world whether they have the money to spend or not.
Physically challenged people often have less in the way of income and savings, due to an inability to work and earn. This means that it is even more vital that we provide the right tools and help for these vulnerable people.
VR headsets are developing at an impressive rate and bringing a virtual, augmented world to more and more users. There are plenty of high-end, expensive simulators, but there are also mid-range headsets from top gaming and tech companies and even cheap tools for iPhones.
More and more people can plug into this new virtual experience, no matter their circumstance or budget. This is crucial for any disabled person that wants to utilize VR and another technological tool in their lives.
Accessible VR Can Make A Big Difference
One way of making VR and AR tech more affordable and accessible is to use common tools in new ways. Thermal imaging cameras have develope so much in recent years that they are now commonly used in a range of applications from conservation to law enforcement. Infrared tech allows the viewer to determine a heat signature and see the world in a different way. Some researchers are now testing this tech on users with vision impairments and legal blindness to see if it can be implement in their lives.
It is not just the blind that could potentially benefit from improved VR and accessible gadgets. Users from across a broad spectrum of disabilities, mental illnesses and age groups can find pleasure, escapism and therapy in one of these devices.
Autistic children can let go of their concerns and socialize in a fantasy world. People with mobility issues can experience “physical” activity and war veterans can take virtual tours of War Memorials thanks to to “Honor Everywhere”.
Another interesting group is BreakThru, who have created a virtual campus and learning environment for students with handicaps and confidence issues. The possibilities are pretty much endless. Only with the right approach to making VR and AR tech affordable. And operable in the hands of these vulnerable groups.
Google Bring Hope For The Disabled
One company that is getting in on the game is Google, and the work so far is encouraging. They set up their Virtual Human Interaction Lac in 2003 and have been developing VR tech ever since. The results have been striking for two reasons.
Firstly, the work has resulted in tech that is accessible and affordable at the right level for vulnerable users. Secondly, much of their work has focused on disability. The lab created a VR cardboard headset that is affordable to all and the VR version of Street View.
One of the more interesting projects is the subversion on the idea of giving disabled users the chance to be able bodied again.This empathy project shows able-bodied users. What it is like to be disable such as by providing extra limbs or color blindness. In the hope of altering perceptions.
There is still a long way to go with some of the high-end products and simulators. Experiences like the surfing simulation from Specular Theory are a great starting point. But even this option is limited because there was no interactive element.
The concern here is that developers will go bigger and smarter to create the most realistic AR experiences possible. And they can simply end up alienating the vulnerable users that need it the most.Google’s experimentation suggests that work is heading in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how their VR tech shapes the lives of disabled users. And perceptions of disability in the future.