7 min read

Design for inclusion: mixed reality and a more accessible world

Stefan Bickelmann

Senior User Experience Designer

A long-standing belief at intive is that all consumers must be taken into account during the design and development of a new product. An ethical design strategy includes everyone, and teams need to always be on the lookout for ways a product becomes unintentionally exclusive. Further, we believe innovation has the power to open the world to those with physical limitations. Mixed reality (MR) in particular is showing its capability to make the world far more inclusive.

New eyes for the visually impaired

Mixed reality combines virtual reality with real life, essentially superimposing reality with digital information. The user puts on a headset and sees virtual components that are implemented into objects that are already there. The technology can help those with visual issues, including showing colorblind people what colors look like and providing displays for readable texts to those with visual impairments.

There are fascinating tools out there that, if incorporated with MR, have the opportunity to become even more powerful. Be My Eyes, for example, is an app that pairs a visually impaired person with a volunteer at the click of a button. Say someone needs help reading a restaurant menu: The user can immediately connect with a volunteer who can read the options to them through video captured in their smartphone. Future upgrades of this tool could certainly incorporate machine learning and AI, perhaps in a way that’s visibly rendered in an MR headset.

A workaround for the hard of hearing?

Every day, people with hearing impairments have communication challenges. Some must learn to lip read so they can understand what people are saying. Others are limited in how they can express themselves due to their hearing challenges.

Through translation applications, MR can reduce the feeling of isolation that comes with communication difficulties brought on by hearing impairment. With a headset on, the spoken word can be translated into sign language for the user and displayed as a moving 3D hand model. What’s more, the user could also translate sign language or visual cues into voice through the headset. By combining MR headsets with hearing translation apps, it’s entirely possible to overcome the isolation that’s often associated with deafness.

Standing tall with mixed reality

If someone suffers from a physical injury that leaves them unable to walk, the recovery time can vary. It depends largely on the damage that was sustained, but also on the patient’s ability and drive to recover. Recovery is physically and mentally draining. Some are also left permanently confined to wheelchairs.

But what if MR could help people recover from spinal injuries? A study by Duke University took eight paraplegic patients and fitted them with VR headsets. The VR headsets along with full-body exoskeletons created an immersive training environment that stimulated the neurological connections the patients had to their legs. Specialists then proceeded to give the patients almost 2,000 hours of physical therapy sessions. In all eight patients, a good degree of recovery was experienced. Also, the lab was able to drastically reduce the use of heavy machinery and the portable VR systems allowed the patients to spend more time on exercises. The level of success from the study clearly shows that MR can also be used in the medical field.

Inclusion should be at the top of the mind for every design and development team. With an ethical approach to design, major challenges for those with physical limitations can be overcome. We can expect the applications for MR technology to broaden significantly, and as the technology advances, the world will open up to those who are often shut out.

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