Progress always seems to come at the cost of someone getting left behind, but as we enter a new age of the virtual world, it’s high time we change that. As creator of NFTY Collective, Giselle Mota works with brands and companies to ensure that people with disabilities are included in every step of the design process and metaverse experience.
In the same way that the Internet has created new opportunities for the disability community, Mota believes the metaverse has the potential to vastly benefit the lives of people with disabilities. “The metaverse holds plenty of opportunity to provide the disability community with skills and income,” she explains.
Already we’re seeing the creation of new jobs within companies such as Ericsson, Adobe and NASA as they turn to advisers and consultants with disabilities for expertise on how the disability community experiences new technology. On the education front, Mota and her team work to create courses that people with disabilities can take from home on metaverse platforms, equipping them with the skills needed to be a part of web 3.0.
“In the metaverse, we can use technology to go beyond what we can access in the physical world”
For Mota, it is encouraging to see that organisations are starting to think about accessibility. Still, there is a long way to go. “There is a lot of focus on web 3.0 and the metaverse now, but we need a greater understanding of what accessibility means within those spaces,” she says. She illustrates this with an example of metaverse spaces with ramps for wheelchair users, despite the fact that the platform allows avatars to teleport from one place to another.
“People still have a limited view of accessibility in the metaverse. It requires a shift in mindset. The metaverse is not the same as the physical world. We can use technology to go beyond what we can access in reality.”
An ideal metaverse, Mota describes, would first visually represent people with all kinds of disabilities. Beyond that, she hopes the metaverse would be able to personalise each individual’s experience to suit their needs. This means that a person who is visually impaired might be provided audio descriptions, and someone who is hard of hearing could have access to automatically generated captions.
“Infrastructure also needs to be both affordable and accessible,” she explains, pointing out how certain equipment like virtual reality goggles are difficult or impossible to use for people with vertigo, visual impairment or other disabilities.
“There is a belief in the disability community that nothing should be built for us without our input,” Mota shares. “There are coders, engineers and developers out there with disabilities. If companies are looking to build a more accessible metaverse, then these are the people who need to be involved in those projects.”
As for users of the metaverse at large, Mota urges that we actively question how accessible virtual spaces are in order to enact change. “When you’re in a virtual space, look around and take note of things like disability representation and accessibility. Ask yourself, how might a person who can’t hear, for example, experience this space? Then, write to the companies with these questions.”
Now more than ever, it’s crucial for us to have these conversations and to make sure that the voices of the disability community are heard. Mota shares: “We haven’t gotten accessibility right in the physical world even after so many years of trying. If we can get it right in the metaverse while we’re still in the beginning stages of building it, perhaps people with disabilities will have a place where they feel included. We need to act now so we can influence the future.”