Get Involved in Community Initiatives
XR hardware, software, and content developers all recognize that employers need to provide accessible immersive technologies for workers with disabilities. They work with disability advocacy groups through the XR Access Initiative to advance the accessibility of XR platforms, applications, and content. XR Access work streams create new accessibility resources for XR, ranging from accessible development tools to the business case for XR.
Teach Access works to equip students in higher education with the knowledge they need to design, develop, and build new technologies with the needs of people with disabilities in mind. Initiatives like Teach Access can help ensure that the next generation of researchers, designers, and developers of immersive technologies understand how to make those technologies accessible from the beginning, rather than relying on plug-ins or other separate accessibility technologies.
Build a Business Case for Inclusive XR
A solid, comprehensive business case is an essential tool to ensure that immersive technologies are accessible. It can help to justify an organization’s accessibility initiative. It can also help organizations to communicate about their initiative to internal and external stakeholders.
Employers should develop a business case for inclusive XR and immersive technologies that does the following:
- Maps to established organizational goals and objectives.
- Identifies how improving the accessibility of their immersive technology infrastructure can advance their business.
The XR Association offers a variety of public policy perspectives, as well as research and best practices, that can help inform an organization’s business case.
Because XR technologies are always evolving, the business case should be considered a living document. Organizations should review and update their business case regularly to reflect changes to systems and processes.
If an organization already follows a specific process for developing a business case, it should use internal resources to get started. For example, some organizations incorporate business case development into management training or maintain an intranet resource on the subject for individual employees or teams to access.
However, developing a new business case is not difficult. It basically entails laying out facts and logic. Some of the factors in a business case may need to be quantified. Others may only require a sound argument and concrete examples. Below are some guidelines to follow.
- Include an assessment of anticipated benefits and risks. For example, consider the use of the technology by diverse employees.
- Ensure that the business case research team includes three to five people with diverse lived experiences, including people with disabilities.
- Leverage consultants where needed to fill any gaps in the team’s composition.
- Present the drafted business case to leadership to gain buy-in.
Build an Accessibility Business Case
- Consider the following factors:
- Improved recruiting
- Increased retention
- Employee success
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion
- Corporate image
- Reduced legal costs
- Cost-effectiveness compared to assistive technology (AT)
Leverage Emerging XR Accessibility Guidance
Organizations can benefit from seeking out emerging XR accessibility guidance. They should look for guidance that includes input from disability advocacy groups, researchers, inclusive design and accessibility consultants, XR platform manufacturers and software developers, and content developers.
One resource is the XR Association (XRA) Developers Guide, Chapter Three: Accessibility & Inclusive Design in Immersive Experiences. This chapter includes suggestions for how to ensure XR technology is usable and useful for everyone.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which publishes standards for the internet, has also created draft XR Accessibility User Requirements. These requirements help developers understand what people with disabilities may need when they access immersive applications and content. Other requirements from the W3C, such as the Real-Time Communications (RTC) Accessibility User Requirements or Immersive Captions Requirements, may apply to immersive technology-based applications or content an organization implements.
Below is a sampling of best practices drawn from the XRA Developers Guide as well as other sources.
Inclusive Design for All Employees
- Provide the ability to remove or reduce background details and audio from virtual environments.
- Provide an undo or redo function and/or a confirmation of action so that users can correct or avoid mistakes caused by imprecise choices.
- Allow users to reduce the speed of the program or increase the time allotted for making decisions.
Inclusive Design for Employees Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
- Provide Text-to-Speech (TTS) for visually impaired employees.
- Offer audio-based interfaces as an alternative to visual interfaces.
- Allow users to magnify or reduce objects and text to make them easier to see.
- Allow users to change the foreground or background colors of text.
- Allow users to change the brightness levels in the app.
- Provide shapes or symbols alongside meaningful colors, or provide textures on objects to help colorblind employees distinguish information in-app.
Inclusive Design for Employees Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Provide captions or subtitles for live or recorded spoken audio features.
- Use icons or other indicators to identify the direction from which verbal and non-verbal audio features emanate.
- Display sign language interpretation of audio elements.
- Allow users who have hearing loss in one ear to switch from stereo to mono audio in cases where headphones are used.
Inclusive Design for Employees with Mobility Disabilities
- Allow the program to assist the employees in completing any task.
- Allow the use of alternate or separate controllers or sensors.
- Allow employees to use the program from a seated, reclining, or stationary position if the program otherwise would have the user in a standing position or using body movements to access the content.
- Allow users to remap controls on a standard controller or remap controls onto alternate controllers, sensors, or keyboards.
Inclusive Design for Neurodivergent Employees
- Allow users to adapt content displays, opt for subtitling or audio commands, turn off background audio, and/or highlight important information in apps.
- Provide the opportunity for users to experiment with the program’s interface and controls before undertaking any potential challenges or training tests in the program.
- Offer plain language tutorials on essential functions, with scaffolding for users to build from simple to complex maneuvers.
Practice Inclusive Hiring
Organizations seeking to address the skills gap are turning to new, more diverse talent pools, including people with disabilities. Doing so helps to foster a broad culture of accessibility and inclusion – which will also inform efforts to invest in accessible immersive technologies.
Organizations working to connect with new, diverse talent must implement intentional policies to look for and hire people with disabilities. Some helpful sources include:
- The Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA) collaborates with employers and apprenticeship intermediaries to design inclusive apprenticeship programs that meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to gain credentials and skills to succeed in high-growth, high-demand industries.
- The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) also has resources to help employers recruit and hire people with disabilities. For example, PEAT’s TalentWorks: Accessible eRecruiting for Employers has helpful information on how businesses can make their online recruitment efforts accessible.
- The Department of Labor’s RETAIN Initiative (short for “Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network”) promotes “closer coordination among individuals and organizations who influence workers’ decisions about how or whether to stay at or return to work after a work disability.” The RETAIN Initiative also develops early intervention strategies to keep people in jobs after they experience a disability while employed.
- Source America helps to match people with disabilities with job opportunities and provides them with job search resources. This is another helpful resource for both job seekers and employers.
Engage Employee Resource Groups
Employee resource groups (ERGs) can help determine the accessibility needs of employees who will use the XR technologies an organization adopts.
An employers’ greatest resource may be its own employees with disabilities. This talent pool should be tapped to assess the immersive platforms and applications that an organization might use. Organizations should engage employees with disabilities to help plan and design any immersive content or applications built in-house.
These employees should also help plan the implementation of new technologies, including employee support and accommodations. To achieve this, organizations should refer to guidance from the Employee Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) on Developing Disability Employee Resource Groups and from PEAT on Planning Accessible ERG Events.
Talk to Suppliers and Involve Procurement Teams
Employers and their purchasing staff should build accessibility and usability into their information and communication technology (ICT) procurement processes. Perhaps the most crucial step is to prioritize accessibility when talking to vendors who supply immersive technology platforms, apps, or content they are purchasing or licensing. PEAT’s Buy IT! Toolkit can help an organization ensure that the ICT they buy and implement works for everyone—including employees, job seekers, and customers with disabilities.
Recover into Inclusion
The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the way employers and employees view work and workplaces. Some of these changes could be good news for people with disabilities. This group often faces unfair barriers to occupations for which they are qualified. In many cases, remote work, flexible working environments, and increased adoption of new technologies such as XR can break down those barriers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that “almost half of all persons with a disability who were not working reported some type of barrier to employment.” Lack of education or training, lack of transportation, and the need for special accommodations at the job were among the barriers reported to BLS.
Accessible XR holds the promise of removing some of the obstacles that people with disabilities face in joining the job market. It may also help employers commit to making their labor force more diverse and inclusive. Inclusive and immersive technologies should be a part of every employer’s post-pandemic strategy to find new skilled workers, increase the diversity of their workforce, and become a part of a recovery powered by inclusion.