Building a Safe, Accessible, and Impactful Immersive Future

This is a guest blog post from the XR Association.
 
As we begin to emerge from quarantine, the monumental lifestyle changes that once defined the “new normal” have grown familiar. For most Americans, these include the shift across sectors to remote working and learning and the new digital-forward workplace – changes not likely to disappear as social distancing guidelines recede. On the contrary, we’re likely to see the continued embrace of digital-first tools for connectivity and collaboration. Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality (collectively, XR) technology will play a critical role in facilitating connectivity, distance learning, and virtual workforce training and development in a post-pandemic world. But this emerging technology can only be effective if policymakers and other relevant stakeholders know it exists and understand its impact and promise across various sectors of the economy.
 
The drumbeat of education around immersive technologies animates our work at the XR Association (XRA). XRA represents the broad ecosystem of the XR industry including headset manufacturers, technology platforms, component and peripheral companies, internet infrastructure companies, enterprise solution providers, and corporate end-users. We promote the dynamic global growth of the XR industry and are leading the way for the responsible development and adoption of XR by convening stakeholders, developing best practices and research, and advocating on behalf of our members. The technology that powers, defines, and enables our working and social lives can no longer view considerations such as accessibility, privacy, and user comfort as competitive differentiators – they should be expectations, built into the design process from conception. It is vital that industry lead on the development of best practices to support the safety and accessibility of XR technology.
 
The XR Association, with its members, has published three chapters to date of the XRA Developers Guide: An Industry-Wide Collaboration for Better XR. In our latest chapter, we provide developers with the knowledge they need to incorporate accessibility and inclusive design into their virtual environments. This chapter built on two prior chapters: one addresses fundamental design principles for user comfort and safety and the second concerning the development of safe, inclusive, and respectful immersive experiences. The future is digital: XR will be the next computing platform and it is important that it is built with accessibility and safety in mind.
 
While the XRA Developers Guide is intended for developers and technology platforms, it is also a useful primer for other audiences. We believe that policymakers can benefit from a greater understanding of how the technology works and the steps industry is taking to address some of the unique issues that it raises. It is critical that lawmakers and stakeholders in the technology development space enjoy an open, honest, and reciprocal dialogue. XRA works closely with Members of Congress and Administration officials to facilitate this important dialogue and to help ensure policies and standards are well balanced, effective and feasible – protecting consumers while fostering innovation.
 
To this end, XRA has partnered with the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) to bring together key stakeholders and subject matter experts from a variety of fields to consider the policy challenges and opportunities associated with immersive reality’s growth and adoption. We are working toward an end-product that again keeps policymakers apace of the evolution and use of the technology but also addresses matters around privacy and safety. As discussed above, consumer protections must be built-in from the start.
 
XRA is far from the only organization leading the way on best practices and guidance. Groups like the XR Access Initiative have begun the important work of fielding input from not just developers, but also consumers, corporate end-users, hardware manufacturers, academia and members of the disability community to build the business case for inclusive design. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created a document to help XR developers understand some of the fundamental challenges to accessibility and identify ways to overcome them. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) released a report on the best ways for policymakers to create a framework that protects user privacy and promotes innovation. And, of course, Games for Change is inspiring, empowering, and unifying developers, researchers, and tech companies to create immersive media that addresses real-world challenges, creates empathy, and drives social change.
 
Immersive technologies are poised for major growth in the coming years. The XR Association provides great opportunities for companies to network with the headset manufacturers, promote their products and services, and take part in our important educational outreach to policymakers and end users. We invite interested companies to learn more about XRA at www.xra.org/joinus..