Building VR for People With Disabilities

Full body VR is coming. Take one look at Stress Level Zero's forthcoming Vive game Hover Junkers, and you'll see lots of crouching, ducking, dodging, turning and reflex usage. This is a very exciting time for most of the gaming world- but one group of people could get left in the dust if we're not careful: The disabled.

People with disabilities have gotten pretty clever at gaming in a world designed for the fully-abled. Youtuber MacsHG, aka "The Handless Gamer," uses his feet to play games competitively. Or have a look at Broly, an extremely talented competitive fighting gamer who uses his mouth to play. Recently, I came across a blind gamer named stirlock who had some things to say about how he plays a smartphone game called Final Fantasy Record Keeper without eyesight.

What will happen when we make the switch from gamepad and keyboard based controls to full body tracking and motion controllers? And what can be done for those who are bedridden, wheelchair bound, or disabled in some other way?

Accessibility and You

Accessibility is a huge deal on the web. There are a lot of things to consider when building internet content. For example, text size must be scalable for those with poor vision. If we build web content without taking disability in mind, we close people off from our message and experience. We may lose out on their sale, or their ability to enjoy everything the web has to offer.

So too, accessibility in VR will matter. Here are some ideas for making your experience more accessible:

Oculus Home has large, high contrast text

Oculus Home has large, high contrast text

Readable text
Examples from the history of modern signage are great models to follow when creating text in VR. Readable from a distance, bold, high contrast, and avoiding unusual typefaces. Iconography is often used to communicate concepts along with text. Many users will be colorblind, so putting colorblind test modes on your camera is one example of how you can make your experience more accessible.

Can you degrade to a seated experience?
There are a lot of standing experiences coming- and this is exciting news for the future of gaming- but not everyone can stand or move around. There will be many kids and adults in hospital beds who are tethered to machinery that won't be able to get up and swing their arms. Can you figure out a trimmed down version of your experience that works sitting down?

Positional audio will be critical
VR will be just as fun for the visually impaired. With positional audio, the blind will be able to hear all kinds of new and immersive environments. It's going to be more important than ever to put lots of effort into sound design.

Focus a great deal on comfort
Making experiences that don't cause nausea is a given. Have a look at our overview of comfort for ways to give your users a more comfortable journey.

We need to come together on standards

"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect." –  Tim Berners-Lee , creator of the World Wide Web

"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."
Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web

Within 6 months of the writing of this article, consumer VR will be here. The world is going to change as content consumption changes. It's time for the UX field to gather together and start working on standards of usability and accessibility.

Daniel Allen is the co-founder of Block Interval and co-creator of the in-development VR game Life of Lon. For more information about the project, check out or the VR announcement.