A look toward the future: The power of creating accessible multisensory experiences

Published February 19, 2024

More now than ever, there’s a desire to blur the lines between the physical and digital worlds. As the demand for immersive experiences increases, and as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) advance, there will be even more multisensory experiences happening in digital spaces. Multisensory experiences simultaneously engage multiple senses (think: sight, sound, touch, and even smell and taste in some cases). 

Sensory design is not a novel concept; it has been incorporated into various disciplines, from interior and environmental design to gaming. However, the last decade's advancements in augmented and virtual reality have spurred a more thoughtful approach to capturing senses beyond sight. Incorporating sensory elements crafts an immersive and captivating environment that can help transform the digital arena. Still, there are challenges with making multisensory experiences accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. 

The Role of Accessibility

As we embrace the metaverse and other immersive spaces, designing for all senses—and all people—becomes paramount. The "human-centered design" concept is evolving to include fewer interruptions and more natural interactions, emphasizing comfort and personal connection. This inclusive approach is not just about enhancing experiences for the non-disabled; it's about ensuring that everyone can fully participate in and benefit from these environments, regardless of their sensory abilities.

Prioritizing accessibility is critical here to provide equal access to content by accommodating diverse needs and preferences of those of individuals with disabilities — because without it, we are leaving out a major portion of the population, an estimated 1.3 billion people.

The Multisensory Mind

This shift acknowledges that our built environment should cater to a full range of human senses, creating visually appealing places rich in tactile, auditory, and olfactory experiences. This allows users with different sensory abilities to enjoy the experience in a meaningful way.

By making multisensory experiences accessible, we empower individuals with disabilities to participate fully, whether it's enjoying entertainment, learning new skills, or engaging in therapeutic interventions. Accessibility fosters a sense of belonging and equity, affirming the value of diversity in our society.

This is especially the case as this technology grows in popularity for children and young adults since “children and youth with disabilities are at higher risk for experiencing lower levels of social-emotional well-being than their peers without disabilities,” one study cites. 

VR alone has the potential to positively impact social isolation, and the more accessible its features, the better.

Challenges in achieving accessibility

Designing for diverse needs requires careful consideration and inclusive practices. Each disability has a unique set of requirements. For example, people with visual impairments may rely on auditory or tactile cues, while those with hearing impairments may need visual or tactile alternatives. 

Another challenge is the integration of assistive technologies within multisensory experiences. While technology has the potential to enhance accessibility, there is often a lack of compatibility between mainstream multisensory platforms and assistive devices

The National Council on Disability has made the call to action to “Maximize the effectiveness of assistive technologies and lower their cost – to

maximize people's general abilities and independence” in their look at information and communication technology.

Strategies for fostering accessibility

To address the challenges of accessibility in multisensory design, several strategies can be implemented:

Universal design

By considering accessibility from the outset of the design process, designers can create multisensory experiences that are inclusive by design rather than as an afterthought. This can be done by adopting a universal design approach to create products and environments that are inherently accessible to people with diverse abilities. By allowing users to customize their experience, accessible, immersive multisensory design can create a more engaging and enjoyable experience.

Multiple modalities

Providing information in multiple modalities caters to different audience members' sensory preferences and abilities. This can be done by providing alternative formats like audio descriptions for visual content or tactile representations for auditory cues to enhance accessibility for individuals with sensory impairments.

Continuous Improvement

Accessibility is an ongoing process that requires continuous monitoring and improvement. Designers should regularly evaluate the accessibility of multisensory experiences and make changes based on feedback and evolving accessibility standards.

When conducting user testing and asking for feedback, it is critical to engage people with disabilities to identify accessibility barriers and refine the user experience. This way, designers can gain insight into how to improve accessibility and usability for diverse audiences.


Ensuring accessibility in multisensory experiences is vital for promoting inclusivity in this growing digital landscape. Through collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to continuous improvement, multisensory experiences can be inclusive for everyone.

Immersive multisensory design promises to create more inclusive and supportive environments for people with disabilities. By offering spaces that cater to a wide range of sensory needs, these designs not only enhance the quality of life for individuals with disabilities but also support their development, communication, and social integration.


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