While not a catch-all for every situation, augmented and virtual reality can create greater equity and inclusion in a variety of settings. The innate capabilities of XR technology have it uniquely positioned to help create a better working, educational, and social environments for everybody involved. Augmented reality development has undergone major changes in recent years due to its rising demand in households, and as the technology gained mainstream notoriety, the desire for more inclusive technology was met, closing the gap between the physical reality of disability, race, and gender. Augmented and virtual reality is an innately inclusive technology that provides an opportunity for anybody interested in continuing education, career development, gaming, and personal improvement, regardless of certain barriers that would otherwise hold them back.
How Can AR/VR Provide Equity and Inclusion?
The first step, let's define both equity and inclusion.
Equity, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is something to be equitable or deals fairly and equally with all concerned. Equity, though similar, is distinguished from equality, where equality means to provide the same for all. Equity, on the other hand, recognizes that not everybody is starting from the same place or with the same ability. Take a group of person's height, for example. Every person in the group varies in height. Say that each person needs to be the same height as the tallest person in the group. It doesn't do well to have each shorter person stand on a box of the same dimensions. While this will get some people there exactly, for others, it would prove insufficient. For others, it would be too much.
In this example, an equitable solution that would provide each person the same opportunity to reach the height of the tallest person recognizes that some are shorter and will need a taller stool, while others will be taller and will need a shorter stool. Thus, everybody is given an equitable solution to the same problem.
Continuing with this example, inclusion refers to the ability of everybody in the group to participate. Say that in a group of people, one person struggles to stand, while another cannot hear the instructions properly, and one is blind and cannot see the process or even find the stool. Each of these people has a varied ability to participate in the activity. For some, it's harder than others. Inclusion in this instance would be to find a way for everybody to participate, a handrail for one to hold himself up with, and guides for both the deaf and blind person.
Augmented and virtual reality are excellent solutions to the issues that stem from humanity's predisposition for spectral qualities. Some people are taller. Some people can walk, and some can't. We have language barriers because the people of the world are beautifully unique. The diverse capabilities of XR technology recognize this simple fact, and its innate ability to cross-cultural, language, ability, gender, and workforce boundaries make it a technology that can bring people together in unique ways. While this example is a little on the nose, it illustrates the necessity for more complete equity and inclusion in all areas of life. AR & VR, when designed with these principles in mind, can offer immersive experiences that help dispel inequality in the workplace, educational sphere, and social settings.
Inclusion and Equity in Theory
Augmented and virtual reality are excellent tools that can create a more equitable workplace in a variety of sectors. While there are plenty of ways to make the workplace more accessible, it is also crucial to make it comfortable for every worker. A valuable skill for each worker to have that would initially create this environment is empathy, or the ability to see the scenario from another's perspective.
AR and VR can place users in different locations with different scenarios and a wide array of situations where they can experience a wide variety of circumstances. To a degree, they can experience what it's like to live in a world they don't understand or with a disability that makes life more difficult.
One reason people have a difficult time in certain scenarios is the lack of experience with the elements within them. So, dealing with disabilities, differences in cultures, etc., can be dealt with more empathetically if the worker can do empathy training within an AR/VR simulation.
Augmented and virtual reality training is also beneficial for those in high-risk scenarios, where a level head is necessary for the best, most beneficial outcome. As stated before, difficulties in a given scenario result from a lack of exposure to unfamiliar settings and details in a variety of intensity levels. AR/VR training could reduce the number of errors made by newer workers by exposing them to common scenarios they would experience on the job.
Creating an inclusive environment for a variety of people is difficult, especially when the lines of communication are closed due to disability or cultural barriers. AR and VR actively create open lines of communication that enable workers to come together to create a better working environment for all.
That's all well and good for people not dealing with inclusion barriers, but what about those who sit on the other side of the wall?
Equity and Inclusion in Practice
Augmented and virtual reality for equity and inclusion is really cool in theory, but it gets even cooler in practice. Here are a few examples:
- Equal Reality
provides diversity and inclusion training for workplace interactions, a skill crucial to helping create a better workplace environment.
- Sensory enhancement was used in a 2018 art exhibit at the National Gallery in Prague
. With haptic VR, visually impaired users were able to "see" very well-detailed artwork by feeling it.
- The XR expert Darian Skarica
created a universal translator based on the one used in Star Trek. This would later be adapted and released by Google as the translator we all use today. This translator helps cross-cultural and language barriers for better communication between individuals.
- ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is a common disability that makes social interaction difficult for many people. Virtual Reality Opportunities to Implement Social Skills
(Voiss) provides virtual experiences that help teach social skills, and social-emotional intelligence. This project enables those with Autism and other socially inhibited disorders to learn how to interact in social situations and become positive members of society.
Augmented and virtual reality technologies were developed to give users a new experience to allow them to see the world (or other worlds) from a different point of view from each side and angle. AR and VR, while not necessarily created with these differences in mind, are valuable resources for creating more inclusion in various areas of life, from communication to participation. They already help much of the world interact in beneficial ways. So, developing these technologies with dispelling these inclusion barriers in mind would eliminate them as much as they can without actually taking away what makes us different. XR technology could take the world a long way in eliminating the difficulties of what makes people different and allow them to see the beauty in those differences instead.