X-Reality (XR), also known as extended reality, is an umbrella term to describe virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies. X-Reality is changing the way we interact with the world around us and will, undoubtedly, shape the future of work. In fact, companies are already using these immersive technologies to train staff, enhance collaboration, and market products and services.

As XR becomes more widespread, many people stand to benefit from using these systems in their everyday lives. In the workplace, XR can be a powerful tool for employers, employees, and job seekers. It has the potential to support mission-critical functions, increase productivity, and remove barriers to employment. Yet, if XR is not developed with inclusivity and accessibility at the forefront, people with disabilities may be left behind.

What is XR?

These technologies fall under the umbrella of XR:

  1. Virtual Reality (VR) places users is an entirely virtual environment, completely cut off from the real-world.
  2. Augmented Reality (AR) is a reality where virtual objects enhance a user's true environment.
  3. Mixed Reality (MR) enables users to interact with virtual objects within a real-world environment.

XR and the Future of Work

How might XR change the future of work? A recent article in HR Dive pointed to a December 2019 report by Mojo Vision and stated: “XR can help workers' performance, including allowing them immediate access to such information as forecasts, sales figures and other key data; aiding workers with public speaking engagements by keeping information before them so they won't forget it; and helping workers abide by required procedures, processes and compliance measures.”

Today, VR headsets are being used to train staff how to interact with customers; companies are using VR for recruitment and hiring; AR systems are improving efficiency on the assembly line by placing complicated instructions in a worker’s field of vision; and, MR is being developed to help doctors visualize and address different medical conditions impacting patients.

Use-cases like these give us a glimpse into the future of XR technologies that have the potential to make meaningful improvements to how employers and employees interact in the workplace. However, XR tools won’t be useable by everyone if they aren’t made accessible.

Accessibility at the Forefront

Incorporating inclusive design standards and best practices learned from the design of other forms of accessible technology can help ensure the success of accessible XR. As an example, enabling features like color adjustment and magnifying tools—accessibility features used in gaming—can help people with low vision explore and understand the scene presented to them.

Industry-wide efforts to produce accessible XR, however, aren’t yet the norm; accessible XR is by and large being developed piecemeal. The current absence of industry accessibility standards and lack of understanding of the “why” and “how” of accessibility more broadly, may be one reason for the delay in integration of accessible features into XR.

Ensuring XR is born accessible and useable for all will require a cross-sector approach to educating stakeholders about the importance of accessibility in the development of XR technologies. It will also necessitate providing industry leaders with the knowledge and tools necessary to create accessible devices and content. Sharing expertise through sector-wide collaboration will enable designers, developers, and industry leaders to learn from each other and replicate best practices. PEAT is helping to foster this collaboration.

Partnering to Support XR Accessibility

XR Access logoIn 2019, Cornell Tech and Verizon Media partnered with PEAT to launch the XR Access Initiative to help overcome the barriers to accessible XR. XR Access is a community of more than 140 cross-sector participants representing advocacy organizations, industry, and academia who are dedicated to ensuring XR is accessible to people with disabilities.

PEAT’s primary role in the initiative is to facilitate the success of a community of practice (CoP) to inform and transform how the field creates accessible XR technologies. Each working group is composed of between 20-100 active participants dedicated to making an impact in specific issue areas.

The PEAT team is also leading an effort within XR Access to develop an “XR Accessibility Playbook” that will be used as a model for developers, designers, and industry leaders. The Playbook will set the stage for future leaders to apply lessons learned and recommendations from the CoP to design accessible emerging tech.

If you’re interested in getting involved in the XR Access Initiative and/or joining a working group, please contact info@xraccess.org for more information.

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