Projects

Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) Environments and Disability

There are many interesting opportunities related to disabilities and MMOs (such as Second Life or World of Warcraft). These environments can be used for educating about disability issues and for providing a new type of independence to those with disabilities. There is also the opportunity to explore public policy issues for users with disabilities in these virtual communities.

One project would be creating avatars and client interfaces that mimic various disabilities which could be used by players to virtually experience the impact of that disability on what they can do and how they can interact.

Interfaces can also be created to allow better access for users with disability. For example an audio-only client could be used by a blind user to interact more fully in the virtual community. While creating the interface would involve developing technology there are also opportunities for HCI/psychology projects that look at how users with disabilities currently utilize and interact in MMOs or how increased access via accessible interfaces changes this usage. For example one project would be to study the social effects that this type of access could have for users with disabilities.

Aside from creating more accessibly interfaces, are there creative ways that MMOs can be used to aid persons with disabilities with their problems of everyday living? For example could these virtual worlds be utilized for helping people that are doing physical rehabilitation from their homes or for aiding those with cognitive impairments to get through household tasks?

As MMOs become more mature and more widely used policy issues that are the topic of debate in the physical world begin to have relevance in virtual communities (e.g. should gambling be allowed? How is stealing dealt with?). There are many opportunities to research and develop strategies for how the companies that run MMOs (such as Linden Labs) might handle disability issues. Will we end up with virtual world analogs of existing real world laws (like the ADA)? Do policy decisions from the real world have relevance in a virtual community, or are new approaches and ways of thinking needed?



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