Ever stepped into a virtual reality game, or taken a meeting in an augmented reality workspace? If you have, you'll know the magic that extended reality (XR) can weave. But to truly make this magic accessible to everyone, we need to rethink how we approach the design and development of XR. We need to shift our perspective from 'disability' to 'disablement'.
Wait a minute, 'disablement'? What's that all about?
'Disablement' comes from the idea that it's not health conditions or physical impairments that disable people. It's actually the barriers in society and the environment that disable us. For example, if you're a wheelchair user, it's not your wheelchair that's the issue - it's the buildings without ramps or elevators. If you're visually impaired, it's not your sight that's the problem, but a world that doesn't provide enough alternatives to visual information.
So, what does all this have to do with XR?
Imagine this: We're creating whole new worlds in XR - we're not limited by concrete, or bricks, or the laws of physics. This gives us a brilliant opportunity to design out those societal and environmental barriers that cause 'disablement'. We can dream up XR experiences that everyone can access, whatever their abilities or disabilities might be.
Let's get practical. We can start by making user interfaces in XR adjustable to each person's needs - changing text size, color contrast, and adding audio descriptions for those with visual impairments. We can integrate XR with other technologies like screen readers or speech recognition software, which can make a world of difference to how people interact with virtual environments.
We can also break language barriers by providing multilingual support, both in text and audio. Let's not forget the avatars - by giving users the ability to fully customize their avatars, we're letting them express their unique identities, and embracing diversity.
Navigation can be a challenge in the real world for some people. But in our XR worlds? We can provide solutions like virtual guide dogs, or teleportation spots to make getting around a breeze. Even sensory inputs like light and sound can be tweaked to suit individual sensitivities.
In a nutshell, shifting from 'disability' to 'disablement' means focusing less on "fixing" individuals, and more on fixing the environment. In our case, that means making our XR products as inclusive and accessible as possible.
So, let's think big and bold about the XR worlds we're creating. Let's use XR not just to push the boundaries of technology, but also to challenge societal norms and build a space where everyone belongs. Because the true magic of XR isn't just about creating new realities, but about making those realities inclusive for all.
Listed as one of Engatica's World's Top 200 Business & Technology Innovators Jamie is a Social Entrepreneur, Digital Innovation Specialist, Metaverse & Web3 Advisor, Workshop Facilitator & Futurist Educator. His niche is developing people, implementing innovative technology solutions and the fundamental intersection where that expertise meets.