Today, VR mainly relies on realistic visual feedback to provide an immersive experience that is only accessible to sighted people. Most VR applications are not accessible for people with visual impairments (including people who are blind and people with low vision), preventing them from benefiting from this important class of emerging technology. In this talk, I’ll describe my research collaborations with Microsoft, which focused on designing technologies to make VR accessible for people with visual impairments, as well as discussing design guidelines for accessible VR. I enhanced VR accessibility for blind users via haptic and audio feedback, while for low vision users with direct visual augmentations. I addressed VR accessibility from both the user and the developer’s perspectives: designing a post hoc plugin to modify existing VR applications in runtime; and providing a Unity toolkit that allows integrating low vision support tools during development. In my talk, I will discuss the experiences, challenges, and expectations that people with visual impairments have for VR, as well as the technologies I designed to increase VR accessibility. I will also reflect on general accessibility guidelines for VR.

About the Speaker

Dr. Yuhang Zhao is an assistant professor in the department of Computer Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests include Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), accessibility, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), human-centered AI, and mobile interaction. She designs and builds intelligent interactive systems to enhance human abilities. Her Ph.D. dissertation focuses on understanding the visual perception of people with low vision, and designing AR applications to enhance their visual abilities in various daily activities. Her work has been published at many top-tier conferences and journals in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (including two best paper nominees), as well as 3 U.S. and international patents. She received her Ph.D. degree from Cornell University, and B.E. degree and M.S. degree with distinction on thesis in Computer Science at Tsinghua University.