Microsoft’s SeeingVR Makes Virtual Reality Accessible To The Visually Challenged

The Microsoft sign is shown on top of the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, California
The Microsoft sign is shown on top of the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 19,2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake)

Up to today, many still consider Virtual Reality as a radical platform that transports users to a world that they used to dream about. The advent of technology has changed the way people look and use VR, but one aspect remains the same: people with poor vision can't enjoy that much

It's not the biggest problem of VR per say, but it does limit its usage to those with 20/20 vision. Those with poor eyesight, on the other hand, might have to go the extra mile in squinting to enjoy VR. Microsoft is helping to address that problem by way of SeeingVR, a toolkit designed for Unity VR developers to aid players with low vision.

Engadget said that SeeingVR was tested on 11 visually challenged individuals. They came up with a result that those who took the test "could complete more tasks" such as shooting objects or accessing the menu when using SeeingVR as compared to the default mode.  Microsoft also acknowledged the fact that not all people have the same visual problems, so they gave SeeingVR 14 tools for users to "customize their experience."

These tools, according to Venture Beat, include, among others, brightness and contrast adjustment, edge enhancement, magnifier, bifocal lens, and depth measurement. The former might be a bit complicated than the other tools since it helps users in "one eye gauge distance," while the other creates a "peripheral remapping." There is also an option where texts can be "visually augmented," read out loud or used to describe objects.

The website added that most of the tools used on SeeingVR could be turned on or off "like filters." This means that users can drop them all or in combinations with one another. SeeingVR is, at the moment, exclusive for Unity VR developers. Engadget, however, sees the toolkit to be widely accessible in the near future since Unity is one of the top names in the VR industry.

SeeingVR will be formally present at the 2019 CHI conference in Glasgow, Scotland next month. Microsoft intern Yuhang Zhao will present the company's research progress on SeeingVR as their contribution to making virtual reality accessible to people with low vision. The paper will also touch on other aspects like opening better opportunities for dyslexic users to access web content as well as an insight to make VR and non-VR educational content available to the blind, said Venture Beat.

Virtual Reality will soon change the course not only of how we play, but how we live our lives. It has gone by leaps and bounds, and soon, even the visually challenged will have the opportunity to try its many wonders.  

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