Chris Ashton

dai11y 08/09/2022

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How Can a Blind Person Use Virtual Reality?

Jesse Anderson, who runs IllegallySighted on YouTube, shares advice for creating accessible virtual reality experiences. He reviews games from his perspective as a blind person. There are games designed specifically for screen reader users, but these tend to be more simplistic and don’t hold his attention for long. Jesse mainly reviews mainstream games, which are becoming increasingly accessible. Third-party mods make other games accessible, such as Stardew Access for Stardew Valley.

One title Jesse is particularly impressed with is The Last of Us Part II, for its 60+ accessibility options, making it fully playable end to end by a blind person, even on higher difficulty settings. Highlights include menu narration, high contrast mode toggle, a built-in magnifier, and the navigation system.

Jesse spends most of this interview talking about challenges in VR. There are currently no commercially available accessibility tools for adding things like screen magnifier, screen reader, or high contrast to a VR dashboard or game interface. Jesse notes that “there was an amazing accessibility suite called SeeingVR, developed as a research project by Microsoft, but it never left the research stage”.

It’s these text and user interfaces that present the biggest trouble for Jesse, more so than the ‘game’ elements such as aiming and shooting a weapon. Even accessing the accessibility settings to make games more playable can be an impossible task because the menus themselves are inaccessible.

Jesse joined XR Access in 2020. It is an organisation “devoted to improving the accessibility of both virtual and augmented reality”, with several working groups dedicated to different accessibility requirements. One group focusses on the business case for XR, while another concentrates on development standards. It is in the process of developing resources and prototypes that developers can use when they are trying to figure out how to make their apps more accessible.

The top things Jesse recommends developers include in their VR experiences are: different text size options, magnification and menu narration features, and most importantly, offering all 6 degrees of tracking, so that if a user needs to get closer to something in the environment to see it properly, they can simply lean in or move closer to it.

Like the web, Jesse suggests that the platform itself needs to provide a standard base level of accessibility, such as a system wide screen reader. Unfortunately, existing screen readers aren’t compatible with the games themselves, which are powered by Unreal and Unity.

Further reading/watching: Virtual Reality in the Dark: VR Development for People Who Are Blind.

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