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Info about available Resident-created tools to make Second Life easier for the disabled


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.

Handicap.png 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.


Americans with Disability Act

Section 508

United States Access Board

UK Equality ACT of 2010

Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992

Canadian Human Rights Act, Article 25

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

World Health Organization International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF)

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.

Virtual World Accessibility Solutions

Keyboard/Mouse Accessibility Solutions

The keyboard and mouse are common input devices for computers. Using the keyboard to type commands (as well as communicate in text) and using the mouse to click and scroll are common actions in a virtual world. Other important actions in a virtual world are pressing and holding a keyboard key, pressing two keys on opposite sides of the keyboard, and pressing and holding a key while simultaneously moving the mouse and pressing a mouse button.

You will need to be able to perform these basic keyboard and mouse actions in order to control your avatar and interact with objects in a virtual world.

There are numerous reasons why a person might have difficulty with these actions. Maybe this is due to fine motor control issues, or dexterity limitations in the hands. Perhaps the individual is paralyzed, or an amputee, or has arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, or has a temporary disability such as a broken arm in a cast or surgery on a hand. These types of disabilities may affect one or both hands.

If you aren’t physically capable of performing these actions, you can use alternative methods of accomplishing a virtual world task.

The Second Life viewer has some built-in capabilities that make avatar control easier. Many of these are in the User Interface or are Preferences to select from menus.

Making the avatar walk forward or backward or turning to left or right can be accomplished using the arrow keys on the keyboard, but also using arrows in the Walk/run/fly button on the bottom toolbar. (This control can be detached and dragged elsewhere on the screen.) This button has additional sideways movements, and also allows changing between walk, run, and fly mode. In the Preferences menu, General Preferences can allow the use of letter keys (WASD) to move the avatar.

Several Move&View Preferences can aid individuals who have difficulty using the keyboard or mouse. Keyboard options include: Arrow keys always move me; Tap-tap-hold (the arrow keys) to run; Hold jump or crouch key to start or stop flying Single click on land can be set to: no action, move to clicked point Double click on land can be set to: no action, move to clicked point, teleport to clicked point (selected on the world map) You can also designate a Joystick or SpaceNavigator as your input device.

In Controls Preferences, you can select primary, alternate 1, and alternate 2 controls for Motion, Camera, and Sound and Media.

The Favorites bar at the top of the SL User Interface allows you to single-click to teleport to frequently visited locations.

Keyboard shortcuts are available for many Second Life functions.

Another source of assistance for motor issues is the Accessibility Features section in every computer operating system. There you will find information on how to

• activate voice control (speech recognition), which allows you to speak in order to move the cursor and click; click, hold and release the mouse; create and edit text; and numerous other functions

• use Sticky Keys to hold modifier keys down

• enable Mouse Keys

• use the Head Pointer

• allow mouse, keyboard, gamepad buttons or dedicated devices to be used as switches

• and many other functions.

Many types of assistive technology are available to aid in using the keyboard and mouse. The assistive tech used to operate your computer is all that is needed to operate your avatar in a virtual world. Here are some examples of types of alternative input assistive technology that can help you operate in a virtual world:

On-Screen keyboard

Word prediction software

Alternative input devices

Alternative keyboards

Alternative mice

	These devices can be controlled by the eyes, breath, tongue, head movement

One-handed keyboards

Typing aids to depress keys

For assistance in using assistive technology with your computer, contact one of the following: Vocational Rehabilitation in your state RESNA An occupational therapist - contact your state OT agency at

Sometimes personal assistance is helpful. There are many kind, helpful people in virtual worlds who will be happy to work with you. There are even inworld tools that allow another person to accompany you and move your avatar. For instance, “follower” tools are available that allow someone who has trouble typing to walk hand-in-hand or ride piggy-back with another avatar, walk behind or beside another avatar, or ride in a vehicle controlled by another avatar.

For additional information about keyboard/mouse solutions for virtual world accessibility, please contact .

Hearing/Speech Accessibility Solutions

Speech is a widely accepted means of interpersonal communication in virtual worlds. Auditory signals may be part of the user experience. Persons with hearing impairments may miss spoken conversations or presentations, and may not recognize important signals. In addition, individuals without hearing impairment may not be able to hear well if they are in a noisy environment, lack audio hardware, or have a silence requirement where they work or live. Persons who do not or cannot speak may be ignored in environments such as group discussions.

Individuals may have various levels of difficulty with both speech and hearing. Hearing loss ranges from mild to profound, and is a common issue for older individuals. Besides age, other reasons for limited or absent hearing include trauma, infections, and neurological and genetic factors. Some individuals with auditory neuropathy can perceive sounds but not readily interpret meaning from what they hear. Other hearing issues include ringing in the ears and noise sensitivity.

Speech can be disrupted by impediments such as stuttering, trauma, cancer, infections, brain damage (for example from cerebral palsy), structural issues (such as cleft palate), vocal cord polyps, and other factors.

Hearing and speech problems can be temporary as well as permanent. Although many Deaf people can’t speak, it is possible for a hearing-impaired person to speak normally. Many people with speech difficulties can hear properly.

The Second Life viewer has some built-in capabilities that make hearing easier for people with mild impairment. Many of these are in the User Interface or Preferences menus. The volume of sounds, both in totality and individually for different sources such as ambient sounds, streaming music and voice chat, can be controlled either in the Sound&Media section of the Preferences menu, or by sliders accessed by hovering the mouse over the speaker icon at the top right of the User Interface.

You can choose to hear media and sounds or voice from either the Camera Position or Avatar Position. Sound&Media preferences allows you to choose your sound input and output devices.

Another source of assistance for hearing and speech issues is the Accessibility Features section in every computer operating system. You will find information on how to

• Flash the screen when an alert sound is made or choose an alert sound

• Change stereo audio to mono

• Select sound input and output devices

• Enable subtitles and captions

• Convert voice-to-text (V2T) and text-to-voice (T2V)

As in the physical world, personal assistance facilitates communication with and by someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing.

Speakers who prepare text ahead of time, either to be read or as an outline or set of notes from which to speak, can provide that text to their audience. Instructors or conference presenters can provide this text on a notecard to their audience. (This can double accessibility if image descriptions are included.) Alternatively, a teleprompter-like Second Life tool, such as SpeakEasy, puts prepared text into Nearby Chat, which the speaker can read aloud. If the presenter is unable to speak, another individual can speak this text aloud.

Automated captioning of speech is possible from an SL environment that is shared on an external screen such as Zoom. Captioning services include:


• Otter Live Notes

• Streamer

However, automated captioning on YouTube, for example, does not work on videos shown inside Second Life.

Human captioning, also called transcription, is another possible solution. Talented human typists can rapidly type the gist of speech into Nearby Chat. (It is not possible for a typist to keep up with the speed of ordinary human speech in order to provide a word-for-word transcription.) Virtual Ability provides this style of V2T transcription for spontaneous, ad-lib speaking. Please contact Lorivonne Lustre inworld to arrange for this service well in advance of when it will be needed.

CART (Communication Access Realtime) services ( ) create word-for-word transcripts. The transcriber may have an avatar at the spoken event (generally preferred), or may listen to the event in a shared screen from the recipient’s Second Life presence. CART transcripts are produced on a stenotype machine and software sends the text to the receiving individual’s computer.

(Universal Design note: As is often the case, adaptations for persons with hearing impairment are also valuable for persons whose first language is not the one being spoken, persons with attention disorders or unscheduled interruptions of attendance, and persons with memory or comprehension impairments.)

For Deaf individuals whose first language is sign, interpretation can be arranged. The Deaf individual and an ASL interpreter would both need to be present at the Second Life event, while also connected by video phone, in a manner similar to video remote interpreting services ( ). The interpreter signs to the recipient of the relay services, and can speak the recipient’s signed words in the virtual world environment.

Due to limitations of finger and hand gestures and facial expressions of avatars, sign language is extremely limited within the virtual world. Some large signs are available as gestures. While some of these personal assistance solutions are offered at no charge, the presenter or sponsoring organization should expect to pay for most of them.

Reading Accessibility Solutions

Including adjusting UI size, Voice Chat, T2V transcription, text reader devices

Other Accessibility Solutions

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

Academic Research Projects Related to Accessibility

Related Resources