Steps to Building an Accessible Future

After finalizing the focus of each group, participants, with the guidance of XR Access leadership, embarked on the path toward success—beginning to create the building blocks necessary to achieve the Initiative’s long-term goals. (Play 7 of the Playbook: “Getting to Work.”) They were given the opportunity to shape the focus of their groups alongside their participants rather than mandated to follow a specific structure. Though not required, several Working Groups laid out a plan to accomplish large-scale projects early on, while others took a freeform approach, identifying activities as they went along. Both approaches yielded results. Throughout the process, XR Access leaders came together with participants to discuss progress being made to determine next steps in their efforts. (See Play 8 of the Playbook: “Evaluate Your Impact.”)

In year one, XR Access leadership, with the support of the XR Access community, accomplished several important activities that helped to identify the state of the field, answer industry-wide questions to inform long-term projects, and expand the footprint of and participation in XR Access. Projects and activities included:

  • Conducting a community survey to help inform XR Access activities and garner responses to the big question: “How do you use VR, AR, and MR, and is it accessible?” The survey, which collected input from about 100 participants, including people with disabilities, helped determine the XR applications in widespread use in personal and professional settings, identify user needs, and gain insight into potential accessibility solutions.
  • Defining stakeholder use cases to provide real-world examples of how XR Access guidelines, policies, and practices might be used and contributed to by XR Access stakeholders.
  • Conducting an analysis of virtual conference platforms to determine their accessibility and better understand if and how they could be more accessible to people with disabilities in the age of telework. This analysis resulted in XR Access contributing a chapter on accessibility to the XR Collaboration – Global Resource Guide.
  • Publishing a research paper on XR hardware accessibility, “Reflecting on the Future of Extended Reality Hardware Accessibility,” by XR working group members Aviv Elor of U.C. Santa Cruz and Joel Ward of Booz Allen Hamilton.
  • Collaborating with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to explore the development of XR related standards. This included participating in the Inclusive Design for the Web Working Group; Inclusive Design for Immersive Web Standards Workshop; and Immersive Captions Community Group.
  • Exploring user needs and promising practices with organizations, including Royal National Institute of Blind People, Royal College of Art – Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Immersive Accessibility (ImAc) Project, Educators in VR, A11yVR Meetup, Digital Catapult (UK), and more.
  • Contributing to the XR Association’s Developer’s Guide, authoring Chapter Three: Accessibility & Inclusive Design in Immersive Experiences.

Throughout the process of executing projects and activities, the XR Access leadership team also focused on externally communicating the efforts of the Initiative and the importance of accessible XR more broadly. (See Play 9 of the Playbook: “Communicating Your Progress.”) The team shared information with the public about XR Access and the importance of developing accessible XR. They communicated through robust social media engagement on Twitter and LinkedIn, speaking engagements at more than a dozen in-person and virtual conferences with global audiences, and dissemination of messages in the media via published articles and podcasts,

All these activities set the stage for the success of the 2020 XR Access Symposium. The 2020 Symposium was the second to take place, with the first Symposium happening in 2019. The inaugural event, hosted by Verizon Media and Cornell Tech, brought together thought leaders from industry, academia, accessibility, and advocacy to develop plans to tackle challenges in the way of developing accessible XR—laying the groundwork for the XR Access Initiative.

After a year of efforts to implement change led by XR Access, leadership decided to host the second annual Symposium to share the progress of the Initiative in laying the groundwork for an accessible future of XR. Attended by more than 400 participants in all stakeholder groups from 23 countries on 5 continents, the Symposium brought together those that participated in XR Access in its first year of operation and other XR and accessibility leaders from across the globe.

Attendees discussed the state of the XR field and celebrated a year of progress toward accessibility. As a result, they walked away with a sense of what was to come for the future of XR Access, helping to shape the focus of the Initiative and next steps stakeholders could take toward creating a more inclusive and accessible future. (Learn more in the 2020 XR Access Symposium Report, including information about the 12 breakout sessions held at the event.)