According to the Center for Disease Control, roughly one in four adults in the United States has some form of disability, with Black and Indigenous Americans and impoverished communities having disproportionately high rates. Therefore, it is crucial when creating educational materials that educators be familiar with best practices to avoid providing disabled learners with a lower quality pedagogical experience than they provide to their non-disabled peers. (It is also important because it is their legal obligation.) The materials provided here seek to guide educators on incorporating immersive technologies into their teaching while providing equitable access for disabled learners. They are not exhaustive, however, and do not act as a comprehensive overview. Instead, they are an entry point for readers to learn more.
To learn more about accessible technologies:
To learn more about Disability, consider:
The Disability Studies Reader (Lennard J. Davis) for a solid introduction to Disability Studies
The Disability Visibility Project for narratives of disabled people
The U.S. Census Bureau regularly puts our publications, visualizations, and other resources on disability. This working paper is particularly useful in defining what different types of disabilities entail and how they are assessed by the Bureau.
To learn more about how to discuss and describe Disability, specifically, using person-first (person with a disability) vs. identity-first (disabled person) language:
Person-First Language vs. Identity-First Language: An examination of the gains and drawbacks of Disability Language in society (Matthew Conlin, Journal of Teaching Disability Studies)
Person-First vs. Identity-First Language (By Dr. Monica Simonsen and Dr. Cynthia Mruczek, University of Kansas Department of Special Education)
Identity-First Language (Autistic Self Advocacy Network)
Azenkot, S., Larry Goldberg, Jessie Taft, and Sam Soloway. 2019. XR Symposium Report. https://docs.google.com/document/d/131eLNGES3_2M5_roJacWlLhX-nHZqghNhwUgBF5lJaE/edit?usp=sharing.
Clark, Jasmine, Lischer-Katz, Zack. 2020. “Barriers to Supporting Accessible VR in Academic Libraries.” The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy 17. https://jitp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/barriers-to-supporting-accessible-vr-in-academic-libraries/.
Cook, Matt, Lischer-Katz, Zack, Hall, Nathan, Hardesty, Juliet, Johnson, Jennifer, McDonald, Robert, & Carlisle, Tara. 2019. “Challenges and Strategies for Educational Virtual Reality.” Information Technology and Libraries, 38(4), 25-48. https://doi.org/10.6017/ital.v38i4.11075
Ellis, Barrie, Gareth Ford-Williams, Lynsey Graham, Dimitris Grammenos, Ian Hamilton, Headstrong Games, Ed Lee, Jake Manion, and Thomas Westin. n.d. “Game accessibility guidelines.” Game accessibility guidelines. Accessed Dec. 13, 2019. http://gameaccessibilityguidelines.com/.
Enamorado, Sofia. 2019. “The CVAA & Video Game Accessibility.” 3Play Media. https://www.3playmedia.com/2019/03/18/the-cvaa-video-game-accessibility/.
Johnson-Glenberg, Mina C. 2018. “Immersive VR and Education: Embodied Design Principles that Include Gesture and Hand Controls.” Frontiers in Robotics and AI 5, art. 81 (July): 1–19, http://doi.org/10.3389/frobt.2018.00081.
Kersten-Oertel, Marta, Sean Jy-Shyang Chen, and D. Louis Collins. 2014. “An Evaluation of Depth Enhancing Perceptual Cues for Vascular Volume Visualization in Neurosurgery.” IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics 20, no. 3: 391–403.
Lucchesi, Andres. 2015. “Introduction to Special Issue: Disability Studies Approaches to Pedagogy, Research, and Design.” Journal of Interactive Technology & Pedagogy 8. https://jitp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/category/issues/issue-eight/.
Mott, Martez, Ed Cutrell, Mar Gonzalez Franco, Christian Holz, Eyal Ofek, Richard Stoakley, and Meredith Ringel Morris. 2019. “Accessible by Design: An Opportunity for Virtual Reality.” ISMAR 2019 Workshop on Mixed Reality and Accessibility. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/accessible-by-design-an-opportunity-for-virtual-reality/.
W3C. 2019. “Inclusive Design for Immersive Web standards.” W3C. https://www.w3.org/2019/08/inclusive-xr-workshop/.
Zhao, Yuhang, Edward Cutrell, Christian Holz, Meredith Ringel Morris, Eyal Ofek, and Andrew D. Wilson. 2019. “SeeingVR: A Set of Tools to Make Virtual Reality More Accessible to People with Low Vision.” In Proceedings of CHI 2019, Glasgow, Scotland, May 4–9. http://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300341.
Define Clear Learning Objectives: Be very explicit regarding the pedagogical function of the immersive technology you are introducing into your teaching.
Why immersive technology?
What are the desired learning outcomes?
Learn About Regulations, Stakeholders, and Plans: Familiarize yourself with the guidelines, documentation, and staff responsible for ensuring access for disabled students at your institution.
Common internal stakeholders: disability services, accessibility coordinators (maybe technology-specific), assistive technology librarians, etc.
Common external stakeholders: parents/guardians, social workers, child advocates
Design Alternative Learning Paths: Consider developing a baseline alternative for the immersive technology from the beginning if needed for whatever reason. Something as simple as vertigo could be a barrier to access to certain immersive technologies. As opposed to rushing to draft an assignment during a term, it’s better to think about creating alternative assignments that can be customized or adapted as needed in advance. Depending on the purpose of including an immersive technology (e.g., theoretical applications of immersion or gamification to enhance learning), an assignment could include something as simple as a paper, having students observe others’ gameplay, or even replacing immersive games with non-digital table-top activities.
Interrogate Ability, Don’t Appropriate It: s a general point, avoid teaching “empathy” with marginalized groups, via immersion and embodiment, as the end goal. No technology can fully replicate the lived realities of others, which are composed of a lifetime’s worth of physical, emotional, mental, and social experiences. Instead of focusing on empathy as an external process (“you need to understand others”), consider ways in which learners can develop greater self-awareness (“you need to understand the limits of your knowledge to better listen to and collaborate with others). In other words, consider ways to have learners deconstruct and interrogate how they exist in the world. Focus on bringing awareness to the assumptions built into the physical world around them, as well as the assumptions they may operate under internally, and have learners think about the accompanying implications of those assumptions. For example, instead of teaching students what it’s like to be blind, consider having them deconstruct the ways vision is assumed in how spaces are designed, as well as the ways their understandings of vision impact how they interact with others. An example of this is the Loretta C. Duckworth Scholars Studio’s AccessJam 2020 entry Inaccessible. As opposed to simulating disability, it focuses on getting players to question their design assumptions by showing just how disruptive accessibility failures can be to user experience.
Ensure that learners are readily able to access:
Any documentation you have regarding their accommodations
Information regarding who to contact for help with various issues.
What is the process if complications arise?
What are you responsible for as their educator, as well as what are you unable to help them with?
Who are other relevant offices and groups that they may want to be aware of?
While much of this seems like information students should receive from other offices/people, students come in with an array of backgrounds and it is important that their educators are well-informed so that they can direct students to the relevant services.