X-Reality (XR) is an emerging technology that has frequently come across PEAT’s radar this year. XR, an umbrella term, comprises virtual, augmented, immersive, and mixed reality technologies that can critically shape how we perform activities in workplaces and other life settings. Thinking about the potential impact of XR, consider how it will afford greater opportunities for virtual training, telepresence, and object visualization for work tasks. PEAT is thus excited about the promise of XR and passionate about ensuring its usage supports full accessibility for people with disabilities.

With this goal in mind, PEAT staff recently attended the 2019 MAVRIC Conference on Achieving Measurable Results with XR. This conference showcased momentum for using XR to improve people’s everyday lives. It brought together cross-sector leaders from government, industry, and academia to exchange knowledge and highlight cutting-edge technologies that are transforming how we interact with the world around us.

During the conference, Jason Michael Perry of Mindgrub led a session on the exciting potential of XR technologies and how these technologies have begun to drive greater opportunities for people with disabilities. These emerging innovations highlighted during his talk included:

  • Wrist bands that integrate artificial intelligence (AI) to listen and alert people to sounds in the environment through sensory vibrations
  • Technology such as “CARA” used with Microsoft’s HoloLens, which can provide wayfinding assistance to people who are blind or have low vision by infusing voices alongside objects
  • Focused learning opportunities that can reduce distraction in attention management for people with cognitive disabilities

Throughout the MAVRIC Conference, we also heard how XR lends itself to addressing real-world problems. From a workplace perspective, companies are increasingly investing in XR training simulations to replace traditional in-person trainings, which can often take place at remote facilities. Common uses include providing prospective employees with a skills assessment test and helping new employees learn safety procedures before their first day on the job. XR training also enables companies to make employee-centered learning more engaging, which can enhance onboarding and retention. A recent survey estimated that enterprises adopting XR training technology could save $13.5 billion that would otherwise have been spent on traditional training.

However, as Level Access discussed with us last year, it’s critical that human relations (HR) and workplace leaders consider accessibility issues when using XR in their hiring, recruiting, and retention processes. Organizations should avoid inadvertently thwarting their diversity and inclusion efforts. Sean T. McBeth from Diplomatic Language Services presented a related session on “VR and AR for Everyone,” which highlighted the crucial goal of ensuring these new technologies are accessible. He emphasized the critical legal requirements for compliance with the statutes, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to reduce legal risks related to inaccessible websites. Equally, he noted the broad benefits of adopting principles of Universal Design when utilizing XR technologies. “When you design for accessibility from the start you end up with a really great design for all kinds of people,” he said. Further, he stressed how “accessibility applies to all of us” when considering suddenly acquired and temporary disabilities, as well as the experiences associated with aging.

The PEAT team is already looking forward to seeing next year’s innovations at MAVRIC 2020. In the meantime, check out the new XR Access initiative, which just released an exciting report on how industry, academia, advocacy organizations, and others are teaming up to create actionable plans for solving unique accessibility challenges presented by XR. You can also view the presentations from the conference here: http://bit.ly/2NuMXFv