Transcript of Dr Scott Hollier interview on augmented reality

Friday, 21 October 2016 08:51am

Introduction

You're listening to a podcast from Media Access Australia. Inclusion through technology.

Phillip

I’m speaking with Dr Scott Hollier, Media Access Australia’s Specialist Advisor, Digital Accessibility. And today’s focus is on the accessibility of augmented reality. That may sound like a bit of a mouthful, but think the hugely popular Pokemon Go, and you’ll be on the right track. Scott, this was the topic of your October 2016 WC3 column, and you drew on your own personal experience as a legally blind person when reviewing the accessibility of this new game-play sensation. So what were your initial impressions when it first hit the market?

Scott

Well, as you said Phillip, the game has been exceedingly popular everywhere it’s been launched. And I was actually on a holiday with my family in Japan just before it was launched there, and when it was already out in Australia. And there was certainly a lot of hype and excitement. So when I returned to Australia I naturally wanted to give it a go. So I travelled around my local neighbourhood with my kids, and whilst it was a lot of fun and I could certainly understand the appeal of the game, and it was a great bonding experience also for the family, there were a number of accessibility issues. And it became quite clear that while the game was certainly popular and very exciting and innovative, from an accessibility standpoint unfortunately, there were some problems.

Phillip

So where does Pokemon Go, or fail to go, in terms of accessibility?

Scott

I think the biggest issue is that it wouldn’t have taken much to make the game accessible, and this is really notable by the fact that if you’re using a screen reader, or if you need apps to be in high contrast, or you want to use the accessibility features built into your device, that unfortunately they really don’t work. And it wouldn’t have taken much to make the game more engaging. So for example when you’re walking around, it would have been very easy to have provided to a screen reader some instructions about turning left, turning right, going straight ahead, like we’re quite familiar when we’re using a GPS when driving. And also when actually hunting Pokemon itself, when a Pokemon appears in front of you, it could have given you some instructions for example to move your phone maybe up a bit, down a bit, left a bit, to try to catch the Pokemon. So there could have been some very simple basic things that could have really helped to improve accessibility, certainly here I’m talking from a vision impaired context because of my own experience. But more broadly I think that there was a missed opportunity here in terms of contrast, in terms of compatibility with assisted technologies that could have made the game available to everyone.

Phillip

Okay. So how easy would it be for Nintendo to make the necessary accessibility fixes so that Pokemon Go can go where the wider audience is?

Scott

Well the great thing is that Nintendo and other developers do have a lot of resources to draw on if they do want to improve things. One of the great things that I looked at in the column is that Able Gamers, which is a great web resource in terms of accessibility, they have their own standards in terms of what you need to do to make sure that a game is accessible. So there is a lot of information out there for Nintendo and other companies who are working in this space to focus on making things accessible across a range of disabilities, be it mobility where we look at multiple ways of controlling, be it vision, where as we were just saying to make sure that technologies like screen readers can engage effectively, and for hearing where for example if there’s dialogue in the game having captions, and having those captions adjustable in font size and other things like that. So there are a number of great options to improve the accessibility of gaming. And there’s a lot of games that do do that, but unfortunately there’s a lot that don’t. And augmented reality is particularly important because there is a lot of exciting potential benefits for people with disabilities using augmented reality. And so accessibility is even more important as games like Pokemon Go introduce us to the idea of augmented reality.

Phillip

Okay. And on that subject, what exactly is augmented reality?

Scott

It’s a great question. And look, ultimately augmented reality is, and you often hear virtual reality and augmented reality mentioned in the same breath, virtual reality is basically when you are completely immersed in a computer environment. So you might say put on a headset, and everything you see and hear is a computerised environment. But augmented reality combines a computerised environment with the real world. So in the case of Pokemon Go you’re in a situation where through your phone you can seek from your phone’s camera the real world, but overlaid on that are Pokemon, which you wouldn’t be able to see normally, but you can see through your phone. So it’s basically a blurring of the lines between the real world and the computer world.

Phillip

Great. So do you think this is just a fad, or will it be a category of entertainment and indeed innovation that will continue to grow?

Scott

I actually think it’s both. I think when we’re talking about Pokemon Go specifically, it probably is a fad. We’ve noticed that whilst there’s been scenes, I’m sure many people have seen those scenes on the news where people have fallen into lakes or been near to sites of criminal activities because they’ve been paying so much attention to their phone, we’ve heard lots of news stories about people being really into Pokemon Go. And what we’ve seen is that as it’s been launched around the world there’s been a massive amount of interest initially, but that interest has massively died down and people have lost interest. But when we’re talking about augmented reality as a concept I actually think we’re just seeing the beginning of something terrific. And one of the things that I’ve mentioned in the column is that from a disability perspective, augmented reality could have huge potential. I mean, for example if I used a device like Microsoft HoloLens where I can see both the real world and a computerised version of it, potentially I could say change the environment into high contrast, I could maybe see maps and directions, something that works with my low vision, I could have screen readers talking to me and giving me instructions. Suddenly there’s all sorts of possibilities around navigation, around interaction. Maybe if I’m trying to find someone in the crowd my augmented reality could instantly point a big arrow to the person I’m looking for. So there’s lots and lots of potential for augmented reality in terms of specifically helping people with disabilities. And because of that I’m excited to see games like Pokemon Go pop up, because I think it introduces us to the idea of augmented reality. While it’s not the first game to do it, it’s certainly the first I think most popular game to do it, and yeah, I think if we can watch this space, lots of great benefits for people with disabilities down the track. But it’s important, really important that developers make sure these things are accessible.

Phillip

Yes, so the people with vision, or hearing, or cognitive disabilities have options so they can participate, right?

Scott

Absolutely. And so not only is it about participating in these games, but also looking at how these technologies can be applicable to support people in those disability groups and others. So lots of exciting things to come I think.

Phillip

That’s brilliant. Thank you for your time again today Scott.

Scott

Thank you.

Conclusion

This podcast was presented by Media Access dot org dot au.

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