What is a Virtual World?
A virtual world is an animated three-dimensional world created with computer graphics imagining (CGI) and other rendering software. One of the hallmarks of a virtual world is that a user can interact within the environment by virtue of an avatar, or computerised character that represents the user. The avatar manipulates and interacts with objects in the virtual world by mouse movements and keystrokes issued by the user. In simple terms, the avatar is a remote controlled character or proxy. (Source: WiseGeek).
There are many virtual worlds, one of the most well known probably being 'Second Life'.
Second Life (SL) is a 3-D virtual world that blurs the lines between gaming and social networking and has 3.3 million residents. You begin by making a graphical representation of yourself (known as an avatar) and then you can explore the world by walking or flying around, meet other residents, buy land and build a house, and set up your own business - Second Life even has its own currency that can be converted into US dollars. As well as the residents, real world institutions have a presence there, from the BBC to Harvard University. The appeal for many seems to lie in the combination of social networking, fantastical landscapes and having an alter ego that is maybe cooler than you are in the real world. Looking around the blogosphere, it is clear that there is great interest in Second Life from people with mobility issues. (Source: BBC).
What is the relevance of virtual worlds to Accessibility?
Perhaps the virtual world can teach us something about the real world. They say you should walk a mile in someone’s shoes before passing judgement on them and in a virtual world you can. In a blog about “therapeutic escapism” (there is, for example a community using SL to help recover from strokes) Wayne Porter asks, “If it [Second Life] can be therapeutic for some individuals who are ill could it not be used in reverse… to sensitize people to the realities of life with a disability?” (Original article: BBC)
Accessibility becomes an issue if people with a disability can't participate.
Back in 2007, Peter Abrahams (Practice Leader - Accessibility and Usability Bloor Research) wrote in his blog, "
- Anyone that has a vision impairment and uses a screen reader to access a computer and the web can not access SL, because even the textual information displayed in the client is not accessible by the screen reader.
- Anyone who has a musculoskeletal impairment and can not, or prefers not, to use a mouse or other pointing device can not access large parts of SL. The latest version has added some more keyboard controls but I still get stuck if I do not use the mouse.
|Using Second Life with Autism:||Using Second Life with Cerebral Palsy:|
- Virtual Worlds: Synopsis of User Interfaces and Accessibility Initiatives
- Second Life Accessibility wiki
- Making Second Life more accessible: Video Tutorials
- Virtual worlds open up to the blind: BBC New channel
- Lively: Google's foray into the virtual world
- Blog review - Serious Virtual Worlds conference, Coventry Techno Centre, England, 10-12th September 2008. Serious Virtual Worlds