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Immersive Experiences

Accessibility in immersive experiences

Everyone deserves to be able to experience immersive content and software. To make that happen, responsibility is shared between the platform owner and app developers. If the operating system doesn't provide the foundational tooling, no matter how much work an app developer or content creator puts in, their means of accessibility must be custom to that experience, which contradicts the point of accesible features.

For example, Zach Knox recently wrote about the myriad of accessibility features built into Apple Vision Pro. These range from visual accomodations, like display zoom, incrased contrast, and reduced motion, to motor accomodations like interaction/response speed, to auditory ones like captioning sound. But they also include frameworks like VoiceOver the core UI is built over, with hooks for developers to rapidly provide accessible descriptions of content and alternative interaction hooks. Meta Quest, meanwhile, continues to fail to provide an SDK of accessible UI components, so developers for that platforms must each reinvent the core UI kit of buttons, scroll views, etc. Even if they build their own accessibility settings and accomodations in, which the vast majority will not, users have to relearn the subtle behaviors in each app, and making an immersive workspace with several apps will remain unintuitive to navigate between.

Accessibility for immersive content requires consent, which I've previously covered. Regardless of explicit accessibility preferences, no one should feel confused how they entered an immersive experience, how to navigate it, or how to leave it. Onboarding, through humans or software (ideally with minimal text and clear pictograms, and/or captioned audio or quick video), is a tool for experience makers to guide visitors through an experience.

Another aspect of accessibility is hardware and cost. In this way, Apple's requirement of custom prescription lenses and high cost of entry make the more accessible VR experiences a privilege for fewer people. I hope both the cost of the hardware comes down, and future leaps in optics and display technologies allow accomodating more kinds of eyes through dynamic software rather than expensive accessories.

Well-made UI component libraries, software frameworks that encourage developers to build accessible experiences, design principles for spatial operating systems, and flexible hardware come together to make immersive experiences accessible. It's the responsibility of every platform maker and experience maker to use these tools to their fullest extent.