Many accessibility features are currently in use in Second Life. These include tools built into the viewer software and the structure of the world itself, as well as accessibility tools available in all modern computer operating systems. Assistive technology, such as screen reader software and onscreen keyboards that many people with disability use, works in Second Life. As you might expect in a resident-developed environment, various accessibility solutions have been developed and shared by community members.
One goal of this wiki page is to highlight some of these accessibility features for those who would need them in order to be able to access and function in Second Life. Another goal is to remind content designers and other Second Life residents of ways to make the virtual world more accessible for all users. Disability can happen to any of us at any time, so it’s always wise to be prepared.
Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. Please do your part.
Accessibility means the degree to which an object, function, service, or environment is available for use by as many people as possible. Although often thought of as mainly an issue for people with disabilities, or even more specifically as an issue for those who use assistive technology, accessibility can become a problem for anyone. This broad definition includes wheelchair accessibility (e.g., ramps or lifts instead of stairs, designated parking, and curb cuts), sensory accessibility (assistive listening devices for theaters, audio signals at street corners, Braille signs, TTY in public phones, and alt tags on websites), and many other kinds of accessibility. The numeronym for accessibility is a11y.
This is an internationally recognized symbol for accessibility. However, some people with disabilities do not recognize it as representing their needs. Others feel it is a symbol of the segregation of those with special access needs.
In many countries, accessibility is legislated and thus may be more clearly defined. See the Links below.
Assistive technology (AT) includes all devices (including assistive, adaptive, or rehabilitative tools) that help people accomplish tasks they can’t do adequately or at all without the device. AT can enhance a person’s capabilities, or it can change the method of interaction to one that is compatible with a person’s available capabilities. A wide variety of AT is used by people in virtual worlds. Many specific examples are given in the Solutions and Sources section of this wiki.
Disability means a restriction or lack of a person’s ability to perform a basic life activity, engage in interpersonal relationships, or participate in civic and social life.
Disability can be further defined from several perspectives, often known as models. In the medical model of disability, the focus is on the cause (disease, health condition, or trauma) of the disability. The goal under this model is “fixing” or “curing” the disability, and health and capability are seen as human rights. In the social model of disability, disability is thought to be created by external societal factors that interact with the individual’s condition. The goal of the social model is full inclusion of all people into society, and equitable access is seen as a human right.
Equality is treating everyone as if they were the same. Everyone is given the same resources or the same opportunities. This is not generally a goal of persons with disabilities, because people have different needs. The concept of equality can be contrasted with the concept of equity.
Equity is a goal that many people, including people with disabilities, have. Everyone has different capabilities, needs and circumstances. Therefore, everyone must get different resources and assistance in order to achieve the same outcomes. For a good discussion of the difference between equality and equity, plus programmatic examples, please see ‘’’Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference?’’’
Impairment indicates a characteristic of an individual and is often contrasted with the term “disability.” Impairments include problems with or loss of physical, mental, emotional, sensory, or developmental abilities. The effects of chronic illnesses are often included.
For a discussion of the relationship between disabilities and impairments and some examples, please see ‘’’Impairment, Disability and Handicap.’’’
“People first language” is one way of emphasizing the similarities among all people before recognizing differences. This simple grammatical rule, putting the person first in naming, creates this emphasis. Using “person with a disability” rather than “disabled person” indicates that the disability modifies a person rather than subordinating humanity to the disability. Similarly, a person’s assistive technology should be seen as a tool (“a person who uses a wheelchair”) rather than as a limitation (“a person confined to a wheelchair”). Note that not all disabled people feel that “people first language” is important, nor does the concept apply in all languages.
Universal Design (UD) is an approach to creating structures, products, and environments that are accessible to all people. The ‘’’seven UD principles’’’ promoted by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina Sate University show how this concept extends accessibility:
1. Equitable use 2. Flexibility in use 3. Simple and intuitive 4. Perceptible information 5. Tolerance for error 6. Low physical effort 7. Size and space for approach and use
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is intended to help educators design and assess learning activities that are customizable to the needs of individual students. It offers ‘’’three sets of guidelines’’’ that can be applied by educators in any discipline that will assist all students to access and participate in educational activities. These guidelines target student motivation and engagement, educators’ representation of information in varied modalities, and alternate ways for students to express what they have learned.
Accessibility Issues with Virtual Worlds
Some conditions may be more disabling in a virtual environment than in the physical environment. It is important for people with these disabilities that virtual environments need to be made accessible.
- Keyboard/Mouse Impairment Accessibility Issues
Typically, a computer accepts input from both keyboard and mouse. Normally the keyboard is used for text input and moving the avatar around. Similarly, the mouse is normally used for User Interface navigation.
Keyboard/mouse impairment makes the use of a regular keyboard and/or mouse difficult. It may be caused by upper limb paralysis or amputation, neurological diseases such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, degenerative conditions such as arthritis or carpal tunnel, or blindness.
- Reading Impairment Accessibility Issues
Much information, including local chat, IMs, user interface menus, posters and signs, is provided in virtual worlds through text. Reading impairment also applies to obtaining information from images.
Reading impairment includes blindness, visual impairment, and dyslexia (a form of learning disability that includes print impairment). People who cannot understand the language of the text are also reading impaired. Reading impairment may also come with aging.
- Hearing/Speech Impairment Accessibility Issues
Virtual worlds were originally entirely text-based. Once Voice was introduced, it became useful in many aspects of virtual worlds to be able to hear and speak.
Hearing impairment often accompanies aging. It also includes various levels of D/deafness, whether congenital or caused by accidental injury, or auditory impairment from neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or cerebral palsy. Hearing impairment may also be related to different levels of comprehension of sounds. Reasons for being unable to speak clearly include Deafness, but also stuttering, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, stroke, and oral/throat cancer.
- Other Accessibility Issues
Other accessibility issues include learning disabilities, attention deficits, memory issues, limited cognitive capabilities, and chronic fatigue. Learning a new skill requires attention, effort, and practice. These capabilities may be difficult for someone with these types of other accessibility issues.
Self-identity is also sometimes an accessibility issue. For instance, some people who use a wheelchair in real life prefer their avatar to also be in a wheelchair. Others may prefer to appear as an amputee with a prosthesis, or to ambulate with crutches or leg braces. Some individuals use virtual worlds to hide or leave behind their visible disabilities. These representational choices should be respected, in addition to supporting the access needs of those whose disabilities affect their ability to function in a virtual world.
While aspects of Universal Design, such as ramps instead of stairs and providing multiple modes of communication, are important to include in virtual world creation, some physical world accommodations, such as designated handicapped parking spaces, are not necessary in virtual settings.
Solutions and Sources
Keyboard/Mouse Impairment Accessibility Issues
Including inworld work-arounds, voice recognition software (built-in and purchased), alternative keyboards and other input options.
Hearing/Speech Impairment Accessibility Issues
Including V2T transcription, delayed transcription, captioning
Reading Impairment Accessibility Issues
Including adjusting UI size, Voice Chat, T2V transcription, text reader devices
Other Accessibility Issues
Including safety for adult-children
For Accessibility Questions
Discussions of Accessibility Issues
Transcripts and calendar of events
Public Issue Tracker (JIRAs) Related to Accessibility Issues
Including directions how to use it
User-developed Projects To Develop Accessibility Tools
Including the Max technologies, Restricted Viewer, Access Viewer, and Radegast