Second Life Class Action

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

One of the beauties of Second Life(SL) is that you hide behind
an avatar and, in general, that avatar is different to your real
life (RL) persona. Robin Bloor told us that his is taller, younger
and more handsome; mine on the other hand wears a pair of
psychedelic trousers that I might just have got away with in my
hippy university days (oh well, happy days).

This suddenly made me think that SL is a place where everyone is
as able as each other. This may well be one of its major shortfalls
as it removes some of the diversity of RL that makes it such an
interesting place. On the other hand it does give people the
opportunity to experience, even somewhat vicariously, being one of
a bigger crowd.

However, there are an important group of real lifers who are
debarred. Anyone who is blind, has a severe vision impairment, or
anyone who cannot use a pointing device easily, will find SL
impossible to enter. Even if they get through the first gate, with
the help of a friend, they will find it impossible to navigate
around or interact with the objects and avatars in SL.

The first, one-time barrier, is that the registration process
uses a catpcha that a blind person cannot use; for a solution to
this problem see ‘Bloor helps ITA do it
better than Google

But the real problem comes with the user interface, which gives
a visual representation of the SL terrain, any avatars in your
vicinity, any object you can interact with, and any instruction
displayed on SL notice displays. None of this information is
available via a screen reader and none of it can be pointed at
without a mouse. Further, the controls such as chat, search, help
can only be activated by a mouse click. If any of the above is not
correct then I have not been able to find it via the help

My feeling is that as we are still at the relatively earlier
stages of SL, so that accessibility issues should be fixed now. It
is a new world and it should not debar anyone from it. Given that
the interaction between the SL server and the user interface is a
set of objects that define scenarios, it should not be that
difficult to develop an alternative or extended interface that
would provide the information in a format that would make it usable
by people with various disabilities.

To make this happen will require some pressure on SL; to this
end I am willing to set up the equivalent of a class action inside
SL. Before I can start that I need some supporters, please add to
this blog if you would like to help, either because you are
directly affected or because you understand that it is the right
thing to do.