What if a construction company could use virtual reality to train employees on worksite hazards from the safety of a conference room? Or an expert wind turbine technician could use augmented reality to guide on-site technicians through repairs, despite being in a different country?

These scenarios are now possible due to the ever-growing use of extended reality (XR) in the workplace. XR is an umbrella term for virtual, augmented, and mixed realities. As more workplaces adopt XR, we need to ensure these technologies are built accessible from day one.

Creating the Future of XR

XR Access is leading the charge toward accessibility in all aspects of these technologies. XR Access is an initiative founded and led by Cornell Tech and Verizon Media, with support from PEAT. XR Access just released a report detailing the discussions, ideas, and future directions from the 2021 XR Access Symposium that was held in June. Below are some highlights from that report.

“To modernize, innovate, and expand XR technologies, products, content and assistive technologies by promoting inclusive design in a diverse community that connects stakeholders, catalyzes shared and sustained action, and provides valuable, informative resources.” – XR Access’s Mission

Key Takeaways

1. Nothing About Us Without Us

Chike Aguh, the Chief Innovation Officer at the U.S. Department of Labor, started the 2021 Symposium off with a stirring keynote calling for inclusion in tech. Aguh’s message ran as a common thread through many of the Symposium’s discussions, highlighting a collective call to include people with disabilities in every phase of developing technology. View the video and transcript.

2. The Countless Benefits of Accessible XR

Throughout the symposium, sessions documented numerous benefits of accessibility by design:

  • It is built for the widest group of users at launch.
  • It does not require patches or updates to compensate for accessibility issues.
  • It sets the standard for inclusive technology moving forward.
  • It benefits all users including those who have disabilities as well as users with injuries or temporary conditions.
  • It is helpful for people using XR in environments where they might experience a sensory, physical, or cognitive challenge, such as in a noisy room or confined space.

3. Empowering Future Thinkers

The XR Access community has three workstreams that consider important topics in XR year-round. Here are a few of the areas each workstream will focus on as a result of discussions at the Symposium.

  • Workstream: Inclusive Design for XR – Facilitate accessible project management, capture stories from people with disabilities using XR, and act as a sounding board for organizations that want feedback from people with disabilities.
  • Workstream: Accessible Development of XR – Establish a codebase for developers who need examples of how to create accessible features, define the Accessibility Object Model, facilitate user testing that includes people with disabilities.
  • Workstream: Business Cases for Inclusive XR – Identify specific stakeholder requirements, gather data on the profitability of accessibility, create a proof of concept.

4. Prioritization of Lifelong Access

“Early access to accommodations could lead to a culture shift in the academic and corporate domains, improving prevalent challenges with transparency and lack of knowledge.” (2021 XR Access Symposium Report, Page 13) There are likely significant benefits to this approach. By teaching children from a young age that accessibility and accommodations are available and important, we can begin to close the gap in understanding. Hopefully, this will result in a culture where people with disabilities can expect and confidently ask for accommodations.

5. Exploration of New Challenges and Opportunities

While new technologies have many benefits, they also pose unique challenges. An interesting example from the report is immersive captioning. Some ideas were shared on this area in a breakout session that included a presentation by members of the W3C Immersive Captioning Community Group. This group outlined ideas including an “immersivebill” that serves the same purpose as a theater playbill by showing the user who appears in a scene and allowing them to customize how captions for each are portrayed. They also presented options that included This is just one example of why – as new technology is created – we need people to consider accessibility solutions during the design phase. Otherwise, it might be too late to create truly accessible outcomes that include all users.

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