Conceptually, virtual reality headsets provide a fantastic opportunity to help low-vision users: high-contrast screens and personally calibrated lenses can allow people to see details that can be missed in the real world. But because VR software is usually not optimized for low-vision users, Microsoftresearchers are viewing a solution called SeeingVR — a suite of tools that easily allow Unity application and game developers to add special features.
SeeingVR tools include all kinds of individual effects, ranging from brightness, contrast and sharpness enhancement parameters to traditional zoom, and bifocal functions. Developers can also highlight objects, create visual recommendations and repaint scenes specifically to improve them, in order to provide a high-quality picture for low-vision users; text can be visually added, turned into speech or used to describe selected objects.
Although the enhancement and selection tools will be familiar to users of similar applications, some look quite unique to Microsoft or SeeingVR. One of them is a depth measurement tool that helps users with poor eyesight at a distance of one eye; the other deliberately creates a more focused “peripheral reassignment” tunnel vision. There is even a “see AI” function that tries to derive and describe what is in sight, without a description from the developer, although adding descriptions is also available.
Most tools do not require special transcoding by the Unity app developers and can be turned on or off as filters, alone or in combination with each other. But some of them require modest application updates for proper support. Small-scale testing revealed that low-vision users could perform tasks faster and more accurately with SeeingVR activated tools.
SeeingVR will be officially presented next month along with a research paper at the CHI 2019 conference in Scotland. The researchers will also discuss ways to improve the availability of web content for users with dyslexia, especially through existing “read modes” of web browsers, as well as options that make both VR and non-VR educational content accessible to users who are completely blind.
Stay up to date with the latest virtual reality news with VRcue.