Find your voice in Second Life

A little while ago Second Life released Voice Beta which now means residents can communicate using voice as well as the standard chat and instant messaging. This is great news as it opens the world up to those of us who have trouble typing or can not type.

I’ve been collecting people’s stories and experiences of using SL for a while now trying to fathom how accessible it is to people with disabilities. This has included technical accessibility, compatibility with assistive technologies (such as voice input, voice output and screen magnification) as well as identifying other barriers to access.

What has been most interesting is that as much as I have had feedback on problems people face I have also come across some great examples of how SL has made a positive difference to the lives of many people with disabilities. Making SL voice enabled is just another example as it opens the door to those of us who prefer the spoken to the written word.

Voice in Second Life will offer high-quality communication capabilities with 3D “proximity-based” voice communication. This technology uses spatial awareness, taking distance, direction, and rotation into account, for a more realistic experience. Basically, you’ll be able to tell who is talking in a group since the voice will sound like it’s coming from that direction. We’re also working hard on an initial set of avatar animations, which change and trigger according to the intensity of speech.

Joe Linden, Bringing Voice to Second Life

Something I have heard again and again is that many residents in SL get impatient and fed up when you don’t type quickly or if you have trouble spelling (I can spell but not accurately – I’m lost without a spell checker).

Typing is also a chore if you have learning difficulties, dyslexia, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) , Multiple Sclerosis (MS), arthritis, muscular pain, a broken wrist…the list is endless. Enabling speech therefore comes as a huge relief for many of us. Not only does it mean that you can communicate easily, making SL a level playing field, it also, crucially, gives back a bit of confidence that often comes with these barriers.

I would imagine that even if you already have your own voice input software (where you speak commands in order to use your PC and dictate to write text) that being able to speak rather than dictate into the chat and instant messaging functions speeds things up considerably.

So keep up the good work! While some may criticise Linden Labs and say making SL speech enabled may exclude the profoundly deaf I disagree. We’re not all fortunate to be able to use every channel of communication so lets ensure there are enough channels of communication and provide individuals with a choice rather than force them down one route. One of my colleagues is profoundly deaf and another blind and they have no problem communicating at all thanks to technology and the options it provides.