Full TitleAccessVR - Virtual Reality Accessible to Visually Impaired People
Virtual Reality (VR) is slowly becoming available to the masses at affordable prices, paving the way for a large number of applications in a variety of contexts, such as gaming and entertainment, education, and employee training. Despite the hype about VR immersive experiences, there are numerous accounts [Phillips, 2020; Ryan, 2020] of their inaccessibility. VR applications pose visual feedback as an essential modality, neglecting people with vision impairments.
People with vision impairments represent a large segment of the population. There are more than two billion people with a vision impairment [WHO, 2021], of which 295 million have a moderate or severe impairment and more than 43 million are blind [Bourne, 2021]. Prior research on VR for visually impaired people focuses mostly on applications exclusively designed for this population as a means to acquire either orientation and mobility skills [Façanha, 2020] or knowledge about real-world locations [Guerreiro, 2020]. These solutions often try to mimic real behaviours – e.g., using a white cane [Lecuyer, 2003; Siu, 2020] – as the main goal is transferring knowledge to the real world. While these solutions focus mainly on auditory and haptic feedback, the extent to which these modalities can be used to understand complex virtual environments remains unexplored.
In this project, we will explore how to enable people with vision impairments to perceive virtual objects and possible interactions via nonvisual feedback. To do so, we will build and instantiate a design space framework for the nonvisual representation of the location and behaviours of objects in a VR environment. This includes the description of how feedback is provided to convey interactivity (e.g., an object appearing on the scene, moving, colliding with the user). Our approach contrasts with the status quo, where mainstream VR experiences, and virtual environments in general (e.g., digital games), are usually inaccessible. The ones that are accessible are specifically designed for the population and often over-simplify the experience (both feedback and interaction mechanisms) for the sake of access, but at the expense of functionality and engagement [Andrade, 2019; Gonçalves, 2020; Smith, 2018].
AccessVR aims to present a paradigm shift capable of changing how we think about the nonvisual representation of objects and their behaviours in VR. By providing a comprehensive framework that guides the process of designing novel VR experiences that consider audio and haptic feedback, we aim at supporting designers and researchers develop complex VR applications that consider nonvisual experiences from the start.