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Also posted on: Accessibility
Just over a year ago I wrote an article Three cheers for Target for fighting accessibility.
The logic of natural justice (and therefore the law at some future date) will mean that events, meetings etc. held in SL will need to be accessible. A blue chip company will never want to be pulled through the courts or exposed in the media for excluding anyone with a disability from a real life meeting. They will feel the same way about SL meetings. In time, this will mean that these companies will think twice about having meetings in SL if they cannot be accessible.
When I wrote my original article Linden Labs (the creators of SL) explained that it was a start up company with limited resources. A year later it is a fast growing company and the argument for not doing anything is much weaker.
There are a number of projects looking at possible solutions.
IBM ran an Extreme Blue Projects to look at accessibility of virtual worlds for blind people. The project included the ability to list objects in your vicinity, directional sound to help navigation and text to speech for communicating with other avatars.
Keio University has created a brain computer interface (BCI) for SL. It monitors brain waves in the motor cortex and converts them into movements of the avatar.
These are interesting and important research project showing what could be possible. In the short term I feel that there should be more work done to create a robust and simple interface for people with disabilities. I would suggest this should start with an interface that can be used without a mouse.
An estimate has been made that, within four years, 80% of active Internet users will be using virtual worlds of one sort or another, I have no reason to doubt that estimate. It shows that, although my article a year ago was light hearted, this one should be considered serious and within a year the story will be critical. The problem now needs to be fixed.