Chris Ashton

dai11y 01/09/2022

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Accessibility Virtual Reality Meetup: What Is It Like in Spatial?

Meryl Evans documents her experience of using Spatial, a virtual reality environments for events, to host the Accessibility Virtual Reality (A11yVR) Meetup.

Spatial offers multiple ways to participate, including using a VR headset, a mobile app, or joining via the browser. Joining from the latter, you can navigate the environment using WASD keys.

Spatial supports automatic captions, but it is a ‘pro’ feature and costs extra to enable. The company are apparently passing on costs from Microsoft, who charge for Azure captioning technology. Meryl hopes that the two companies can reach an agreement without burdening users with extra costs, as accessibility should be built in, not a paid extra.

The captions themselves have quirks: when Meryl enabled them, they were captioning what she was saying, not just what other people are saying. The captions can also be hard to see, with sometimes poor contrast and no way of customising them. And one of the speakers could not get their captions to work, at all – down to some unspecified macOS issue.

Some things worked quite well. For users who found movement from other peoples’ avatars distracting from the main presentation, they were able to switch to ‘object view’ to see only the presentation and nothing else.

Auto avatar creation, from a user’s photo, worked well, and avatars were recognisable representations of their real world counterparts. Users could also stream their webcams above their avatars’ heads, which helped show they were paying attention.

Meryl felt the lack of chat box functionality was a real barrier for people, who had to resort to posting virtual ‘sticky notes’ to communicate. These were buggy and hard to read.

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