The XR Access Approach

Verizon Media and the Connected Experiences Lab at Cornell Tech, with support from PEAT, launched XR Access  in 2019. The goal was to help realize the potential of XR and create a future where all XR is accessible to people with disabilities.

XR Access is a volunteer-driven community with participants from academia, advocacy, industry, government, and nonprofit organizations committed to addressing the unique accessibility challenges posed by XR. Leadership includes co-founders Larry Goldberg, Head of Accessibility at Verizon Media, and Dr. Shiri Azenkot, Professor at Cornell Tech, with in-kind contributions of project management support from PEAT staff.

The importance of XR Access was clear from the start. Technology companies and developers were seeking information on the needs of users with disabilities and best practices to meet those needs; accessibility standards organizations were already collaborating to explore the intersection of accessibility and emerging technology; and, academic institutions were conducting research into XR accessibility and developing accessible prototypes. Yet, there were limited examples of research and standards being applied to practice. Against this backdrop, XR Access was formed to help facilitate progress and set the stage for accessibility to be at the forefront of all design.

Vision for the Future

Play 1 of PEAT’s Accessibility Playbook for Emerging Technology Initiatives: “Capture Your Vision,” calls attention to the importance of capturing a Vision Statement as the first step in launching a successful initiative. The leaders of XR Access worked to structure the Initiative around a shared, concise vision that encompassed their hope for an inclusive technology-driven world. They answered the big question: “What does the future hold for emerging XR technologies?” For XR Access, their vision continues to evolve, but their initial statement crafted in their first year of operation has acted as a guidepost through their efforts to date.

Guiding Principles

Guiding Principles should be the backbone of any effort—Play 2 of the Playbook: “Set Guiding Principles.” They are the basic truths that endure regardless of how an initiative evolves over time. For XR Access, which is committed to creating an accessible future, developing Guiding Principles to steer their day-to-day efforts was of utmost importance. This was aptly stated by Larry Goldberg, Founding Member of XR Access and Teach Access, and Head of Accessibility at Verizon Media.

You’re working to assure the innovative technology you’re creating is accessible and inclusive of all potential users. It only makes sense that you should make every aspect of your initiative accessible and inclusive—from the people who lead the project, to how you communicate, to the platforms you use.
Larry GoldbergLarry Goldberg, Founding Member of XR Access and Teach Access, and Head of Accessibility at Verizon Media

As advocates for accessible emerging technology, XR Access leadership decided to create a set of principles rooted in inclusivity, accessibility, and diversity, and that laid the foundation for a safe environment for what would become a community of working group participants. (See page 5 for more information on the XR Access community.)

Inclusivity

As advocates for accessible emerging technology, we truly understand the importance of involving people with disabilities in our work—contributing their expertise and experience each step of the way; people with disabilities are members of XR Access at all levels of the community, including in our leadership team and as participants in XR Access working groups.

Accessible Communication

We aim to make our communications as accessible as possible and create a space in which everyone can participate in the Initiative; we take care in releasing information that is accessible to everyone and creating a space where participants are able to effectively contribute to and engage with our work and request additional accommodations as needed.

A Safe Environment

We strive to create a safe and collaborative environment in which the voices of those involved in XR Access are respected, valued, and understood.

A Multi-dimensional Approach

XR Access Vision and Guiding Principles have acted as a beacon since 2019. They’re the basis for the structure of the Initiative, including its goals and approach to execution of activities and deliverables. Considering their scope of work (see Play 3 of the Playbook: “Structure Your Initiative), the leaders of XR Access took a multi-dimensional approach to structuring the Initiative. They came at the problem of inaccessible XR from multiple angles, creating three strands of work impacting the development and use of XR including:

  1. Research – Exploring the different approaches and techniques to designing XR, while conducting and sharing research to inform how the field develops new technologies that are accessible to people with disabilities.
  2. Education – Engaging and educating our future developers, researchers, advocates, and entrepreneurs to create accessible XR and educating students to become leaders in the next generation of inclusive technologies.
  3. Community – Convening a Community of Practice (CoP) comprising six working groups with more than 140 participants and hosting virtual and in-person events to inform and transform how the field creates accessible XR technologies.

With this approach in mind, it’s also important to note that in the planning stages of the effort the leaders of XR Access were not overly prescriptive in how the Initiative would be structured. They left space for it to evolve over time, leaving room for it to take shape as they launched the community, connected with stakeholders, and experienced successes and challenges over the course of the first year in operation. Ultimately, this led to the development of a new strategic plan for year two of operation. (See page 9 for more information on what’s to come.)

Building the XR Access Community

The Right People

Creating a future where XR technologies are born accessible requires the commitment, expertise, and execution of cross-sector supporters helping to drive an initiative. As noted in Play 4 of the Playbook: “Identify Critical Stakeholders,” it’s important to define who the individuals and organizations are that need to be reached, those that will get behind the effort, and those that will act

For XR Access, their leadership team discussed the individuals and organizations they needed to engage with in year one to achieve their vision. They created a mapping document to help identify their key stakeholder groups, which included leaders from academic institutions, technology companies, disability advocacy groups, accessibility consultants, government agencies, and non-profit organizations that could help propel the Initiative forward.[1] (See the template stakeholder map from the Playbook, which was modeled after the XR Access approach to stakeholder mapping.) The “who” of XR Access’ key stakeholders evolved over time as opportunities emerged to pull new levers for change and engage in activities that needed the support of a specific individual, group, or groups.

Messages that Resonated

At the same time as XR Access leadership engaged in efforts aligned with Plays 3 and 4 listed above, they also crafted key messaging designed to resonate with stakeholders and inspire action. (See Play 5 of the Playbook: “Craft Your Message.”) After creating messages that described what XR Access is, why it exists, and actions that needed to be taken to develop accessible technology, it was time to engage others in supporting the effort.

A Community of Practice

As noted in Play 6 of the Playbook: “Build Your Community,” a successful initiative requires the commitment, expertise, and support of a diverse, cross-sector group of people who act as advisors for and champions of an initiative. The leaders of XR Access decided to take a community-driven approach to guiding the Initiative.

The leaders of XR Access began building their community by reaching out to their professional networks via email to invite individuals from relevant stakeholder groups. The ask was simple: help shape and participate in working groups focused on specific areas impacting the accessibility of XR technologies. Leadership made it clear that those who participated would play an active role in shaping the future of the Initiative through involvement in working groups, and that participation would inevitably help all individuals and industry leaders build a more accessible future for XR.

Those receiving the initial invitation were asked to spread the word about the Initiative to their networks via social channels and share the opportunity to join the initiative more broadly with the people and organizations they believed would be interested in XR Access. Formal guidance for outreach was not provided through talking points or draft messaging, giving room for individuals to share information at their discretion with messages that best suited their approach to connecting with their networks.

Initial interest in supporting the Initiative by joining a working group was high. Several individuals committed to leading working groups as leaders and deputy leaders, joining what would become the XR Access “Executive Team.” Others joined as general participants to attend and contribute to activities, while some became observers to monitor and support the progress of the effort.

Leading working group meetings, the Executive Team collaborated with participants to define the focus, goals, and activities of each of their groups. Their goal was to facilitate the success of working groups that would help raise awareness of the importance of XR accessibility, create a space to collaborate with like-minded innovators and advocates, and create shared resources to communicate the importance of accessibility to participant networks and the public.

After several collaborative sessions between working group leaders and group participants, the focus of each of the six groups was defined as follows:

  • Guidelines, Policies, and Practices: Researching, analyzing, and collaborating with stakeholders to make actionable recommendations to inform those developing XR accessibility guidelines, policies, and practices.
  • Awareness and Outreach: Promoting cross-sector visibility of XR accessibility by building an engaged community of supporters and amplifying its reach and efforts.
  • Education: Building awareness of XR accessibility in educational contexts and considering ways to design XR technologies that are accessible to all students.
  • Application Accessibility: Exploring how new technologies can support accessibility and promoting the creation of interfaces that incorporate innovative uses of enabling technologies.
  • Hardware Devices: Working with hardware manufacturers and academia to evaluate the current and future state of XR hardware, creating guidelines for next generation hardware, and mapping user needs.
  • Content & Authoring: Considering how producers, designers, and developers can create accessible XR content for people with disabilities and promoting accessible content creation tools.

Footnotes

[1] People with disabilities are represented in all stakeholder groups, participating in the XR Access community, providing input into projects, and helping guide the efforts of the Initiative