Universal life: the use of virtual worlds among people with disabilities

Abstract

With their emphasis on 3D graphics and complex interface controls, it would appear that virtual worlds have little to offer to people with disabilities. On the contrary, multi-user virtual environments, such as Linden Lab’s Second Life platform, serve as a form of augmented reality where users transcend physiological or cognitive challenges to great social and therapeutic benefit. A number of intriguing developments exist within the accessibility sector, making barrier-free access an important aspect of the interaction experience. Examples include haptic input devices for the blind, virtual regions developed according to Universal Design principles, communities dedicated to people with cognitive disorders, the use of the avatar as counselor, and customizable personae that either transcend or represent a disabled person’s self-identity. This paper investigates research methods and case studies affiliated with virtual environments, as well as the ways inclusive design removes barriers to access for users with disabilities.

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Acknowledgments

The author thanks Alice Krueger, MS, Allison Selby, MS and Dr. David Toub, MD, MBA for their insightful feedback.

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Correspondence to Kel Smith.

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Smith, K. Universal life: the use of virtual worlds among people with disabilities. Univ Access Inf Soc 11, 387–398 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10209-011-0254-8

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Keywords

  • Accessibility
  • Virtual worlds
  • Second Life
  • Haptics
  • Visual impairment
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Universal Design
  • Immersive environments
  • Education
  • Technology
  • Blind