Have you ever put on a virtual reality (VR) headset to test your skiing skills? Or tried mixed reality (MR) to see a work of art digitally appear in your home? If your answer to one of these questions is yes, you have experienced extended reality (XR). XR is an umbrella term that includes VR, MR, and augmented reality (AR).
Many employers are beginning to use XR tools in their workplaces. Workplace XR is mainly used in training, remote assistance, and collaboration. Some XR tools also help employees customize the way they work. XR tools can enhance work for employees with and without disabilities and create a more inclusive work environment.
Organizations use XR for everything from conducting empathy training to improving on-site workflows. Below are two scenarios to help you envision how XR can be used in different workplaces.
- Imagine that you are a construction worker with an anxiety-based mental health disability. You are training to work at a complex and potentially dangerous job site. Your employer tells you that you can practice using VR. You sit in your living room, put on the VR headset, and are transported to the virtual equivalent of the site you are assigned to join. You test out tasks, make adjustments and improve without leaving your home.
- Imagine that you are an electrician with mobility limitations. One of your regular tasks is to train new employees to work on a specialized breaker box. You learn that you and the trainee will wear MR headsets and view the same breaker box together in real time. You provide an overlay schematic on top of the breaker box to help guide the trainee through the repair process while also giving verbal instructions along the way.
Accessibility is key
XR technologies can help employees with and without disabilities receive training, perform their jobs and enhance their skills. However, these technologies must be accessible for all employees to benefit. When a tool is accessible, it is useful to everyone within your organization – no workarounds or quick fixes required.
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) found that 20% of workers will experience a disability lasting one or more years during their professional lives. This means that if the technologies your company procures are not accessible, a portion of your workforce likely will not be able to use them at some point. Instead of tackling accessibility barriers when they happen, why not make sure that the technologies you purchase are accessible from the start?
Even your employees who do not identify as disabled may find accessibility solutions useful. For example, closed captions within XR experiences can benefit employees who work in loud environments as well as employees who are deaf or hard of hearing. All employees who use XR will benefit from options such as adjusting menu sizes, changing the speed of movement, and selecting their preference for virtual interaction, such as being seated or standing.
How you can use accessible XR at work
First, you should think about the different services or products your organization offers and how XR technologies might help. Then, consider if these technologies have the accessibility features required to help your organization in meaningful ways. Below are a few questions to ask yourself to help you get started.
- Onboarding: Could your employees benefit from immersive onboarding experiences to strengthen their understanding of your work and retain what they have learned?
- Preparing: Do you have employees who might appreciate explore world scenarios where they can virtually navigate your office or job site?
- Collaborating: Do you have some employees working on site while others telework? Could they benefit from collaborating in virtual spaces or having meetings using XR where they can interact with each other sitting around a virtual table?
- Training & Upskilling: Could you capture an expert employee’s knowledge using XR that will help new employees train without requiring one-on-one sessions?
- Engaging & Retaining: Are your employees with disabilities fully immersed in their work, or do they have to find accessible workarounds (which hinder productivity)?
These are just a few questions you can ask yourself. Each work situation is unique, and accessible XR can provide creative solutions to help you build an inclusive workplace.
Interested in bringing inclusive XR into your organization? Here are some more resources to help you get started.
- PEAT’s XR in Hybrid Workplaces Toolkit
- The XR Access Initiative Website
- Podcast: The Value of VR for Training and Employee Development
- PEAT’s XR Landing Page
This post was contributed by the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology.
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