is the metaverse available?

The Metaverse wants to be the future of social networking, even the Internet. But by focusing on the visual, audio and immersive aspects, will they leave out certain users?

While social networks like Twitter and Instagram have recently introduced features to be more accessible to their users with disabilities, the topic still seems taboo in the metaverse. Whether in hardware or interfaces, there is still progress to be made.

Material that is still binding

The promise of virtual reality and metaverses is being able to live immersive experiences, even putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Unfortunately, the material can quickly remind us of the “true” reality. Before we even get to the handicap, VR headsets are not very comfortable for people who wear glasses, which can cause adjustment problems between the eyes and the screen. The weight – around 500 grams – is also a hindrance for people with, for example, neck problems.

On the Meta forums, users have also expressed the need to be able to move in pairs, for example to guide a person with quadriplegia or suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in Horizon Worlds.

To navigate these virtual universes, it is necessary to be able to use both hands quite precisely, generally with joysticks. A formality for most people, but difficult, if not impossible, for users with motor disabilities in arms or hands. An alternative to using the joystick is automatic detection of hands when they are in the field of view, but people with missing fingers have commented that detection is less effective in this case. Their suggestion in light of this malfunction: to be able to disable the registration of certain fingers in the settings.

It is, among other things, to overcome these shortcomings that certain metaverses are also available on computers, tablets and phones, making it possible to use other more suitable devices. On the Meta forums, users have also expressed the need to be able to move in pairs, for example to guide a person with quadriplegia or suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in Horizon Worlds.

Unfortunately, most metaverses don’t communicate about their accessibility settings, so it’s hard to know ahead of time what to expect. Horizon Worlds allows you to change several of them, such as having the entire audio part on one side if the user has difficulty hearing on the other, changing the display of colors or even being able to move normally, while he remains seated in the real world.

For metaverses to be considered real successors to social networks, it is essential that they are accessible to as many people as possible from their inception.

Roads are also explored for other situations. For people with blindness, how do you get that same feeling of walking through another world? In 2018, researchers at Microsoft developed a prototype called Canetroller (for sugar cane and controllercontroller), a haptic and audible white stick compatible with VR headsets that can detect obstacles in the virtual world.

While these features are valuable, there are still more challenges to overcome. Automatic transcription is already tough for videos on YouTube, but it’s even more so when it comes to transcribing conversations in real time, such as on Twitch or in the metaverse. However, this will be necessary for people with hearing loss to understand what other users are saying. Likewise, the live audio description of these virtual worlds for the visually impaired will certainly be a complex feature to develop.

Canetroller, a prototype of a white cane for moving around in virtual reality.©Microsoft

Be available from the start

If the basic utopia of the metaverse is to create a decentralized virtual world far from Gafam, there is a certain advantage that large companies like Meta and Apple are interested in it: they already have teams dedicated to accessibility and experience in developing this type of functionality. For example, Meta has published a charter and documents on accessibility for developers of immersive experiences.

For metaverses to be considered real successors to social networks, it is essential that they are accessible to as many people as possible from their inception. After all, these platforms can be of great help to people with disabilities, especially for remote work, visiting historical places that are normally inaccessible in a wheelchair, or even just meeting new people. Virtual reality has also been touted for its therapeutic uses. By multiplying the parameters of use, making metaverses accessible will create an optimal experience – because it can be adapted – for all users, regardless of whether they have a disability or not.

Leave a Comment