Extended reality (XR) is an umbrella term that includes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). The XR Association (XRA) is an organization that was established to teach and promote the potential uses of XR as the technology that drives it becomes more available. They published the XRA Developers Guide as a resource for building safe, inclusive, accessible experiences.
As of the time of writing, the XRA Developers Guide includes three chapters, so let's take a brief look at what each one covers.
Chapter one: immersive design principles
The first chapter of the guide mentions three different XR media: VR, smartphone AR, and headset AR. Since VR has such potential to engage multiple senses and stimulate an emotional response, the guide emphasizes the importance of balancing the possibilities, expectations, and usability challenges involved with this type of immersion.
The guide recommends developers consider physical and psychological comfort, ergonomics, and eyestrain when selecting platforms and hardware.
Smartphone AR applications usually superimpose digital assets such as images or text onto pictures or videos that the user captures with their device. Users may reorient or interact with these digital assets using their devices or track them through their surroundings.
Developers are encouraged to consider comfortable use, movement, safety, and environmental hazards and limitations when deciding how these applications place objects.
The guide mentions headset AR but doesn't have any specific recommendations for this type of technology yet. For the time being, the XRA recommends following the design principles outlined for VR and smartphone AR.
Chapter two: safe, inclusive experiences
As XR technology becomes more relevant to daily life, it's essential to ensure these immersive experiences are safe and equitable. Chapter two of the XRA Developer's Guide advises creating virtual spaces that are as safe and inclusive as they are immersive.
Establishing a welcoming culture
Fostering a sense of safety and inclusivity online has always been a challenge, and the same challenges exist in virtual spaces. The XRA recognizes the importance of using XR to create positive, welcoming experiences. The guide encourages developers to communicate expectations to users and develop procedures for responding to user behaviors in a way that fosters diversity, safety, and respect as vital social expectations.
Creating conduct policies
Policies can help establish and reinforce desired conduct and social norms. The guide defines minimum conduct guidelines developers are expected to set. It encourages using additional criteria to develop and moderate the type of community they envision for the immersive experiences they create.
Responsible content creation
Every digital experience includes content, and developers need to be mindful about the content they add to environments. In cases where users can also contribute content, the guide advises developers to moderate content contributions to encourage safe, positive content and mitigate illegal or harmful content.
Chapter three: accessible design
The third chapter of the XRA Developers Guide focuses on building accessibility into XR applications and platforms. It explains why inclusivity and accessibility are essential and introduces some best practices and techniques.
The XRA advises developers to create experiences that all users can participate equally and give users control over their experiences. In addition to general accessibility best practices, the guide outlines some techniques to improve accessibility to persons with visual, auditory, mobility, and cognitive disabilities. These guidelines highlight some of the barriers users may face, customizable settings that can help them tailor their experience, and other design and development options.
Setting the bar for accessible XR
Like other digital accessibility guides, the XRA Developers Guide is a living document that's a work in progress. It doesn't offer all the answers, but it's a solid starting point and helpful resource for those working on XR projects. And having guides like these setting the bar now can help establish a better standard for accessibility as we transition into the next generation of digital technology.