Podcast: Virtual Reality and Accessible Workplace Technology

Future of Work Podcast, Episode 10

Beth Crutchfield and Jessie Haugh of Level Access discuss the accessibility issues that HR and workplace leaders should consider when using virtual and augmented reality as part of their hiring, recruiting, and retention processes.

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Transcript

Intro : [00:00:01] Welcome to a new series on the Workology Podcast that focuses on the future of work. This series is in collaboration with the Partnership in Employment and Accessible Technology or PEAT. You can learn more about PEAT at PEATworks.org.

Jessica : [00:00:14] The area of virtual reality and augmented reality is a growing space. The VR industry increased to 90 million active users in 2017 and is projected to increase to 171 million users in 2018. I've had several podcasts interviews over the last three years that touch on the topic of VR for recruitment. It is just starting to emerge as a powerful technology and tool for the workplace. The question is: how do we make these emerging technologies more accessible for all employees and job candidates? That's what we're going to be talking about today. Welcome to the Workology Podcast. This is a part of an ongoing series we're continuing that focuses on the future of work. This series is in collaboration with the Partnership in Employment and Accessible Technology or PEAT. Today, I'm joined by Beth Crutchfield and Jessie Haugh. Beth Crutchfield is the Vice President of Strategic Consulting and Training services with Level Access. Jesse Haugh is an Accessibility Specialist also with Level Access. Level Access is in the accessibility business and has existed and longer than any of its competitors. They have supported the accessibility initiatives of more than 1,000 organizations from leading government agencies to enterprise class firms to smaller sized companies. Beth and Jessie, welcome to the Workology Podcast.
 
Jessica : [00:01:42] Let’s start with Beth. First, can you tell us a little bit more about your background?
 
Beth : [00:01:47] Yes, as you mentioned my title is Vice President of Strategic Consulting and Training. Prior to that, I worked for Capital One Financial Corporation for about 20 years. In my last role at Capital One, I stood up and ran their digital accessibility governance programs so that was the bulk of my last five years of Capital One. For 15 years prior, I spent a tremendous amount of time in the legal regulatory space standing up policy program infrastructures for all the key laws, regulations and support practice fees. So I have a lot of depth in the legal regulatory space and then a lot of depth in the technology space.

Jessica : [00:02:44] Thank you so much for joining. I can’t wait to hear you give us some more insights into virtual reality and augmented reality. Jessie, what about you? Tell us a little bit about your background.
 
Jessie: [00:02:58] Yes, hi. I am an Accessibility Specialist at Level Access. I am also the Head of Research and Development for the Abel Gamers charity and that's where my background primarily comes from is with accessibility within the realm of video games. But then also, with the emergence of virtual and augmented reality, my background is coming in primarily with the mobile apps. The focus on the services side is doing testing of different kinds of software and websites to ensure that they are compliant. So it's great to be here.
 
Jessica : [00:03:42] Let's talk a little bit more about some of the exciting technology projects or things that Level Access is working on or has worked on in the past. Walk us through that.

Jessie: [00:03:53] Yeah, absolutely. Right now and for the years to come we're really doing a revamp and working on our accessibility management platform. It's where our client can use a platform for all their accessibility needs whether it be testing or looking up different standards and they can also do in-house testing with our platform and we'll work on fixing those accessibility issues. So that's one of our great technologies that we have here at Level Access, but we also have our analytics tool as well. What’s neat is that this is a Javascript tool that can spider through any one of our client’s sites, if they use web applications, for example, and pick up the accessibility issue. Then we
also bring back data to the client stating what kind of end-users are using the website currently. That user might be using a different technology so it's really important data for them to know their audience and who’s going to their website.
 
Jessica: [00:05:11] I love that. I think about HR and the recruiting space and maybe how a career site could really use some of the technology that you guys have available to help make their hiring process more accessible.

Beth: [00:05:28] In addition to what Jessie mentioned, we do have a couple of other things that are that are a little bit noteworthy. We offer packages of deliverables for specific purposes addressing policy and governance. So that blueprint is kind of the foundation of our governance infrastructure for an organization that's looking to adopt an accessibility policy or be proactive with respect to things like VR. And then, in addition to that, we have several other packages that do an inventory of what your assets look like that might be at risk from an accessibility perspective, especially in the VR space. And then we have one that's used in situations where you might be faced with litigation. It's a package that offers a standard set of services that will help you as you navigate the legal landscape in this space. And then the last thing I'd mention is a product that is for use in situations where you're doing continuous and graded testing during your software development lifecycle so that product is coming out later this year and it's a heavy development at this stage. 

Jessica: [00:06:53] Wow, that's a lot of different options and offerings. I feel like there are so many questions and technologies changing, so you guys cover a lot of ground. Our podcast today focuses on accessible virtual reality and augmented reality. For those of us who might not be aware or familiar, can you explain to us the difference between VR or virtual reality versus augmented reality?

Jessie: [00:07:22] Yes, absolutely. Virtual reality is often referred to as VR and it's a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or an environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by someone who's using a special electronic equipment. You often see people with a helmet and a screen over their eyes, and they have gloves on with sensors. It’s really a way where the end user, or someone who is using it, is completely cut off from his or her own reality or is placed in a whole new virtual reality. Then on the other side, you have augmented reality, or AR for short. This is technology that superimposes, say, a computer-generated image on the user's real world. It provides kind of a composite view. For this, the end user is still in their actual true reality. But there is a computer-generated image in their reality and that's through a screen. My best example for this is Pokemon Go. I bet many, many listeners or their kids have heard of Pokemon Go. That's a good example of augmented reality. An example of virtual reality which maybe not as many have heard of would be say Batman: Arkham VR, which you can go on YouTube to see.

Jessica: [00:09:04] Wonderful, thank you for your insights in those areas. I am a huge Pokemon Go fan. I still play occasionally, mostly because I have a 9-year-old little girl and we like to go chase Pokemon.

Jessie: [00:09:20] It’s a lot of fun and I will say that I have participated in Pokemon Go without a child and with friends, so it’s great. It’s a great opportunity and a good example of augmented reality technology.

Jessica: [00:09:36] A lot of recruiting and HR teams are adding the VR components into their recruiting and hiring processes. For example, I talk to Gap in a previous podcast episode where they use VR as a virtual office tour getting candidates to experience what it's like to work in their San Francisco and New York offices. I love their VR experience and I remember asking about accessibility for people with disabilities when it comes to VR. Can you talk us through some of the accessibility work you're doing in this area?

Jessie: [00:10:06] We are actually doing a lot of work with our partners. Through the games charity I mentioned earlier, I'm involved in some trials on different ways to make VR applications accessible through the best practices that we already use for game development. We extrapolate from those best practices when needed within the VR area. So that's currently some of the work that we're doing in this area. It’s trial and error; seeing what works versus what doesn't work and for which individuals that these different avenues do and don't work.

Jessica: [00:10:46] Let’s take a bit of a reset here. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you’re listening to the Workology podcast in partnership with PEAT. Today we’re taking about VR and AR accessibility with Beth Crutchfield and Jessie Haugh. The Workology podcast future of work series is supported by PEAT, the Partnership in Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment policy. You can learn more about PEAT at PEATworks.org.

Jessica: [00:11:36] One of the things I love about virtual reality is that it is truly an immersive experience and I think your explanation and definition of virtual reality was spot on. You put that headset on and you’re transported to a completely different place, oblivious of everything around you. I just saw Ready Player One this weekend finally and that was really great movie. If you want to really understand what virtual reality is about, I think it’s a great movie to check out and experience. There was a lot of buzz about it during South by Southwest so I thought, yeah, maybe it’s time to see it. I thought it was a great representation of maybe the future of virtual reality and some of the challenges that we might experience. 

Jessica: [00:12:26] I think that sometimes when it comes to accessibility, we might assume accommodations to our designs are made just for physical reasons. I think that’s not always true. Can you talk about some of the virtual reality design updates of a non-physical nature that you’re working with right now?

Jessie: [00:12:51] Yeah, absolutely. You're right that sometimes there’s a misconception that we're focusing on mobility only, but there are three other groups that we should always focus on when think about accessibility in this field: visual, auditory and cognitive. The whole angle with any of these is that you always want to provide options to the users and that they can turn options on or off. Just having that availability makes a world of difference. But the visual is needed, like changeable text and color sizes. Say you're doing the office tour with virtual reality. That allows different sizes of text to say what the different meeting rooms are, for example. Being able to enlarge text is especially important as we get older. Also, different color-blind options could be available as well. It is a really great accessibility best practice to include and is also useful for low-vision users. The auditory placement of the event stimulus is a way for people with low-vision to have an audio description of what they're perceiving within the VR world so audio announcements, for example, might include some audio describing the environment. But then you also have in view closed captioning, which is really important.

Jessie: [00:14:54] You also have an ongoing cognitive group. Mostly what’s needed for this group is different tutorials about even just how to interact with the Wii. Application tutorials like that are really important. Intuitive menus are important too, especially for someone to use their first time. Also, something that I think ties across the board is vertigo. Sometimes people with disabilities may get vertigo easily. And that's a big issue that's happening right now with VR. I got floored one time testing a VR roller coaster. And I think that was the worst idea for me especially was to be on a VR roller coaster. But we did the testing and we told them to give the customer some way to slow this kind of movement down so that they can handle it and enjoy it at a comfortable speed. So that's really beneficial. Again, it all ties back into customization and providing options. Mobility is very critical and very important, but we need to continue to keep in mind that you have these other three categories as well and they’re needed to make sure that whatever is being created is as accessible as possible.

Jessica: [00:16:28] Another growing area in the AR and VR space for workplace and human resources is training and employee communications. Can you talk about some of the other ways you've seen AR and VR being used in the workplace?

Jessie: [00:16:44] Yeah, definitely for training. I think we've all heard about death-by-PowerPoint trainings and all that. Right now, there are new ways of training to use so that we're not just relying on PowerPoint and very visual kinds of stimuli. I think virtual board meetings are cool, where you're in the same room as everyone else using VR. It adds a new avenue to learning with employee training. Say maybe you’re training with HR and say it's in the medical field, for example. What if you could have that beating heart in a car right in front of you as you're training someone how to do some different medical procedure? That's a great way to use VR specifically in that way. And that's being used in that way in the workplace. I've also seen VR used with physical therapy and occupational therapy as well, especially for neo-military members coming back over and maybe they are missing a limb and are trying to learn to walk again and now they're using different prosthetics. They put on a virtual reality helmet and they're walking through a space and what they're doing is truly walking but they look down and they see both of their legs in a virtual reality interface. So it's really neat that they're practicing walking on the prosthetics and their virtual reality interface lets them see both their legs so it helps the brain to make the physical connection. I've also seen that as another really cool way that VR is being used in the workplace.

Jessica: [00:18:28] I love all those ideas. I think there’s a huge future in these areas. There’s also a lot of technology development in videos and VR recording that’s going to need to be able to happen before all these things are made available for employees. Let’s say you’re a mechanic and you need to learn how to repair a car or an aircraft or something like that. Can you take advantage of VR in these different ways? 
Jessie: [00:19:03] Oh, absolutely. What I also really love about that is safety. For example, for a first-time mechanic learning how to fix a plane, it’s much safer for them to practice in a virtual reality environment than the true reality. Because if you mess up in virtual reality, there are no real-world consequences there. So you can practice over and over again. 

Jessica: [00:19:40] If one of our listeners is wanting to add VR or AR to their training or recruiting programs, where do you think they should begin? How could they get started?

Jessie: [00:19:52] It’s all about working with developers in the field of virtual and augmented reality. From there, you start the storyboards to determine what do they want from his application in all the development stages. What is their goal with their applications? If it is a recruiting program, what kind of end goals do they have for that recruiting program that they want to see? From there, you’ll want to make sure that accessibility is being talked about from the very beginning of development because it is much easier and also much cheaper to include accessibility best practices at the beginning and throughout that development lifecycle versus doing it retroactively afterwards. So that would be my advice.

Beth: [00:20:39] One thing I would add here is that as you're thinking about this and using it in your own internal environment, in addition to what Jessie mentioned, you might also want to be thinking about what accessibility standards you want to adopt. And then also beginning perhaps that journey that we talked about earlier around thinking about and inventorying your assets that are VR and what accessibility support you have in place. That way, if folks are asking questions, you are able to answer those. With respect to where the accessibility stands with your AR and VR, you can also fold that into any internal governance that you have related to accessibility. That would be an important step to consider.

Jessica: [00:21:31] One other question I wanted to ask is do you have any resources in those areas that we can maybe point to folks to on the Level Access site or some sort of video or e-book or an online resource that they could go to for more information? I think that as far as more information about AR or VR, I feel like the accessibility piece of it is new for many people. I was just at a recruiting conference and we talked about simply just recruiting and making your website accessible. And for probably 90 percent of the people in the room, it was the first time they ever heard this conversation. So where do people go?

Jessie: [00:22:36] Yes, so listeners can go to our Level Access website where they can learn more about accessibility and the work that we do regarding accessibility directly for virtual and augmented reality. Beth and I just attended a conference recently where we talked about accessibility in this field and they can download that PowerPoint presentation from the website as well.

Jessica: [00:23:00] And then it sounds like you also have an accessibility gaming white paper that we're going to link to in the resources section of the podcast as well.

Jessie: [00:23:08] Yes, that white paper is focused on accessibility in video game development but there are best practices you can extrapolate from there for virtual and augmented reality. 

Jessica: [00:23:31] A lot of recruiting teams are also looking at gamification to drive engagement and activity, even in the application process. They’ll want to add accessibility into that too so there will probably a lot of really good pieces of information that they can pull from that white paper. Well, Beth and Jessie thank you so much for joining us today. I know we talked about the Level Access website but where else can listeners go to get in connect with you, say if they want to have a conversation about accessibility in VR and AR? 

Jessie: [00:24:00] For me, I'm happy to connect on LinkedIn.

Beth: [00:24:00] I’m happy to connect that way too.

Jessica: [00:24:42] Awesome. I will be sure to include links to both Beth and Jessie's LinkedIn profile so you can connect with them there and then send them over message on how to help get folks started on accessibility in the workplace for the VR and AR. Thank you so much for taking the time to join the podcast today. I really appreciate your insights on this fast-developing, emerging area.

Jessica: [00:24:41] I love hearing about how these new technologies are growing and the different ways and methods that you can make them more accessible to everyone. I look forward to touching base with Level Access again to get an update on how this new industry has evolved and the strides in case studies that are being made in VR and AR accessibility. There is a growing trend in our workplaces where technology from consumer markets is finding a home and application in our offices. It's important for us as HR and workplace leaders to make time to understand, consider and make room for these uses and applications in the businesses that we support. Thank you for joining the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader who's tired of the status quo. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell. Until next time, you can visit workology.com to listen to all our previous Workology Podcast episodes

Exit: [00:25:31] Production services for the Workology Podcast with Jessica Miller-Merrell are provided by Total Picture.com. 

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