Gaming with the Oculus Rift for people with disabilities

Recently these virtual reality glasses have made the headlines worldwide. They are special glasses you wear on your head with a built-in LCD screen. The two lenses give the illusion of two screens. This creates a 3D effect that is intensified by the head tracker in the glasses detecting the movements of the head. When using the Oculus Rift in combination with a mouse, a keyboard or a console, gamers can walk around in a game. A real experience.

Oculus Rift setup
Gaming with the Oculus Rift

In March and April of 2014, I have invited around 60 people to play games with the Oculus Rift. The persons have at least one auditory, visual, physical or learning disability. In the beginning of my research there were a number of very interesting things. One of them is that people with disabilities enjoy playing games so they can escape from reality. You can imagine how frustrating it would be when game-developers don’t take their disability into account. There are very clear guidelines for games. You can read more about this in my article ‘Simple adjustments to make your game accessible’.

Visually disabled benefits from the Oculus Rift
People with a visual disability are usually still able to use a computer and to play games. However, they have to bend their head very close to their screen to be able to see the details. Problems they often encounter is the inability to directly perceive the cursor and neck pain. And guess what… the Oculus Rift solves both problems! With a screen that is close to the eyes of the gamer, someone with a visual disability does not have to bend his head to the screen. Also, a lot of these people said that the search for the cursor is made easier. This makes gaming for this group obviously a lot nicer. You can imagine how nice it would be if they can open their mail and can browse with the Oculus Rift. An outcome.

Oculus Rift glasses
The Oculus Rift on the inside.

Learning disabled in their own world
The Oculus Rift allows people to walk around in another world. Many people with disabilities play games to escape from reality. This is why I think ‘people with disabilities’ is a huge market for the creators of the Oculus Rift. Especially people with learning disabilities enjoy the new world. Their imagination is highly stimulated. The Oculus Rift made possible that people who, for whatever reason, do not go outside, can now walk around outside with the help of Google Maps. There are several videos on YouTube like this one:

Common problems with gaming with Oculus Rift
Besides specific accessibility problems I’ve observed while testing, I noticed some general problems. Many people, even those with a visual disability, could count the pixels of the screen. Unfortunately, this influenced the quality of their experience. Also there were many practical problems finding the position of the mouse and the keys of the keyboard when wearing the glasses. This is quite logical, as you cannot see them. Finally I want to say that there are very few games to play on the Oculus Rift.

Accessibility improvements of the hardware
The developers of the Oculus Rift are dependent on game-developers for the improvements of the accessibility of games. Nevertheless, there are a few issues that are easy to adapt. For example, the short length of the cord of the glasses affects people in wheelchairs. A longer cord would be an easy solution. In addition, people indicated they would like to pay more for a better screen in the glasses. It would be a great improvement. As a final note, I want to indicate that the way in which the glasses fit on the head of the gamer is not ideal. It can be adjusted, but people with a hearing aid need a bit more space for this.

Besides the shortcomings of this version of the Oculus Rift, almost everyone was excited about this way of gaming!


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