Augmented reality continues to open doors and provide access to new opportunities. Enhancing the world around us, AR can transport a user to an immersive environment, assist with daily tasks and continue to bridge skills gaps across the globe.
AR/VR devices serve as the ideal assistive technologies. They are adaptable to unlimited environments and can be customised depending on their user’s needs. From unlocking new forms of accessibility for the disabled to transforming bias training and empathy interventions, it’s no wonder that tech experts can’t get enough of them.
The question is, could augmented tech encourage an inclusive future? With over 1.4 billion active AR devices currently being utilised around the world, read on as we discover how it’s building a more equal tomorrow.
Introducing empathy interventions
One of the key advantages of an AR or VR-driven device is its ability to simply drop a user into any scenario or setting. Using augmented reality, users can quickly interact with new changes to their real-life physical surroundings. This makes it the perfect tool for simulating empathy interventions.
Described by ITIF as “the ultimate empathy machine”, AR could become a key player in inclusivity training and help healthcare workers and family members to help understand how someone with a disability navigates life.
For example, Alzheimer's UK recently released their own AR-powered app called ‘A Walk Through Dementia’. Encouraging users to embrace their natural surroundings with added difficulties helped those connected to the disease gain insight into how it can affect cognitive ability.
In turn, the developers hoped that gaining empathy for those who suffer could improve patient care and family understanding for a more accessible future.
“A Walk Through Dementia is a virtual reality app for Android smartphones which allows you to look at everyday life through a new lens,” says Alzheimer’s Research UK.
“The experience, which can also be viewed via the app or on YouTube, uses a combination of computer-generated environments and 360-degree video sequences to illustrate in powerful detail how even the most everyday task of making a cup of tea can become a challenge for someone with dementia.”
Improving workplace inclusivity
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are all essential components of a healthy workplace. In prioritising diversity and inclusivity within the corporate world, business leaders instantly raise a supportive network of productive employees.
AR and VR tech is helping shape a new future of inclusive business culture. In fact, researchers at McKinsey found that the top-performing companies for diversity alone were twice as likely to beat their competitors out on the field.
Introducing immersive training programs such as ‘perspective exercises’ can help employees stand in the shoes of their peers. For example, a recent program developed by Praxis Labs encouraged workplace teams to experience bias/discrimination in an augmented scenario.
The program, which was named “pivotal experiences”, aimed to teach people about the consequences of discrimination while also educating users on how to respond to harassment.
“At Praxis Labs, our mission is to help make the workplace more equitable,” says CEO and co-founder Elise Smith. “We believe that if we can help each and every employee become a conscious and inclusive leader, that will have a catalytic effect.”
After each immersive session, employees are pushed to take action and make commitments to address their own biases and behaviours. Engaging in an AR-powered platform experience not only provides users with new levels of insight but again builds empathy for a more inclusive future in the workplace.
AR has the capability to improve accessibility like never before. For people diagnosed with physical disabilities such as blindness or loss of hearing, AR can help assist with daily tasks and enhance a physical environment to improve accessibility.
For example, someone who lives with poor vision can use AR-driven devices to head out onto the street with ease. Virtual environments are much more accessible than their physical counterparts. Users can effortlessly tap into spatial mapping for navigation and enjoy real-time audio that digitally enhances their journey.
The Spatial Sound app, for example, does this by taking Google Maps into account when aiding a user's navigation. Using a smartphone camera, AR features can easily pick up obstacles and potential hazards, guiding their visually impaired user safely from points A-B.
“We're trying to make something very simple where you get the 3D sound from the correct direction. You turn in the direction that the sound is coming from, and then you're good to go,” says app developer and SonarVision CEO Nathan Daix.
Those who are hard of hearing can also use visual queues to learn more about their surroundings. Microsoft’s HoloSounduses a HoloLens AR headset to help alert users of changes to their surroundings. From captioning conversations to alerting the user to a knock at the door, assists past daily struggles with digital ease.
Not only does this aid people living with a disability, but AR-powered assistive tech can also unlock new doors to more inclusive opportunities.
Encouraging an inclusive future
A new era of accessibility is on the horizon. AR and VR tech may be known as the cornerstone of immersive gaming, but these technologies can do so much more.
As we open up our industries to AR assistants, we’ll see a new augmented landscape driven by immersive training programs and a list of more inclusive positions.
“These applications can certainly help to level the playing field and create new equity and inclusion opportunities for vulnerable, marginalised, and underserved individuals,” says Ellysse Dick, a cyber policy analyst at ITIF. “But all users (and many non-users) will also benefit. Successful empathy interventions and DEI training will enrich classrooms, campuses, and workplaces; assistive technologies and inclusive design will allow users to personalise how they engage with both physical surroundings and virtual environments.”
Immersive tech breaks barriers, making it the perfect partner in the battle against inequality. The question is, could it pave the way to a more inclusive tomorrow?