Human rights & accessibility in VR

Today, we're excited to share that Weaving a Better Future, the app we helped create with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, is now available on the Gear VR app store. Which means it's now available on all major mobile VR platforms.

Google VR users can download it on both iOS and Android. And all powered by our Scout 360° video platform!

About the project

The app is part of a larger exhibition at the museum, called Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities, which invites visitors to explore and learn about artisan cooperatives run by women in 11 different countries, and runs from July 23, 2016 until January 8, 2017.

The Weaving a Better Future VR experience transports you to Guatemala, where you can learn about the lives, history, and culture behind the TRAMA Textiles cooperative in Quetzaltenango, and a shop in Antigua called Textiles Colibrí, that provide much-needed income for the women artisans who run them and who, with their traditional Mayan weaving techniques, create the textiles for sale there.

Accessibility in VR

Inclusive design is an important goal at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is committed to universal accessibility. With virtual reality being such a new medium, its present-day limitations present a number of accessibility challenges, and we're very proud of the collaboration with the museum that went into making this one of the most inclusive VR experiences yet.

Some of these features include:

Closed captioning

To implement closed captioning in 360 degrees, we placed the captions in three locations every 120 degrees at a comfortable but unobtrusive height within the content.

This was then tested and adjusted until we found the best text size, distance, and height for easy readability and maximum comfort to avoid neck strain.

Bilingual

The entire experience is available in both English and French. Canada is a proudly bilingual country, and everything in the app is consistent across both official languages.

We also created a Spanish version, so that the women whose stories are featured in the project could experience how their stories are being shared.

Testing for colour impaired viewers

The iconography that you see in the app comes from traditional Mayan symbols, called nahuales. These are vibrant in colour and distinctly iconic, but not all colour combinations can be distinguished easily by all viewers.

We tested and made adjustments as needed so that each icons stands out from the others, for all viewers. For testing, we used the Sim Daltonism colour blindness simulator software.

Here is an example of simulated colour blindness:

CMHR simulated colour blindness

Hands-free navigation

A gaze cursor is the VR equivalent to a mouse pointer that you control with the direction of your gaze, and is a very common input method in VR experiences.

For this app, we created a timer-based gaze cursor. To select a video to watch, you simply look at the icon for that video for a few seconds and the icon will be "clicked" for you. This allows the experience to be explored completely hands-free.

The circle you see in the centre of this screenshot of the app is the timer around the app's gaze cursor:

CMHR timer-based gaze cursor

In our testing with CMHR, we found that the timer didn't make sense on Google Cardboard devices, since you have to hold the device to your head with one hand already, and orienting yourself in the virtual world on Cardboard can result in accidental "clicks". But the timer-based gaze cursor is available in the Gear VR version, both in the app store and in the museum exhibit as well.

2D view mode on Google Cardboard

Not everyone is able to wear a VR headset, and few people even have their own VR headset to wear. For this reason, we also designed a 2D view mode in the Google Cardboard versions of the app that enables users to experience all of the same content without the need to put on a headset.

All user interface elements as well as closed captioning were adapted to work in the 2D mode, so users of this mode can still fully experience the content in the app.

Sign language in the touchscreen version

Because playing 360 videos is fairly intensive on a mobile device, we had to leave out the ASL/LSQ sign language videos from the VR experience. But we did include them in the touchscreen version that is available in the museum.

The touchscreen version was built using the open source Apache Cordova project, Mozilla's A-Frame WebVR framework, and a custom Cordova plugin we wrote to support ASL/LSQ videos playing in sync with the 360 videos.

This custom plugin has been released as open source as well so that other developers can more easily add ASL/LSQ support to their video players, and is available here.

Empowering Women exhibit

The Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities exhibit is open from July 23, 2016 until January 8, 2017, and we are very proud to be a part of it. Follow the above link for more information, and if you're in Winnipeg go check it out!

Virtual reality has the ability to help us share and understand other peoples' perspectives in a deeper way than any technology has before. This makes it an incredibly powerful vehicle for promoting important causes like human rights.

About Scout 360°

Scout 360° has already powered virtual tours for universities, sports promotions, and music festivals, but this marks our first publicly available app to be released on the platform.

If your museum is looking to experiment with 360 video content, Scout 360° can help you by providing a fully customizable, interactive, and accessible 360 video player for use both in-gallery and to release on public app stores to share your message the world over.

If you're a videographer and you're looking to get into 360 video, Scout 360° can help you by providing a branded cross-platform app, essentially your own VR video player. Whether you want to produce one video, or publish new content on an ongoing basis, Scout 360° can provide everything you need to get up and running fast and looking amazing.

- by John Luxford

 
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