User testing by people with disabilities in Second Life

At Oz-IA ast weekend, the Australia Information Architecture conference in Sydney, Gary Bunker and Gabriele Hermansson presented on User Research in Virtual Worlds.

They talked about how their company Hyrdo, have set out to build a research platform to allow user testing within virtual worlds, not only for their experiences there but also of products in real life. This is a great idea on so many levels. Firstly, user testing can be costly and difficult to set up, it’s hard to get cross cultural input in the real world or people may feel out of their comfort zone. What struck me as really exciting however is the idea of being able to carry out user testing by people with disabilities in virtual worlds.

I’ve wanted to see testing of the grid by users with disabilities in Second Life for a while and have been informally chatting to people there about their experiences. You have a community of Residents who are already familiar with the world who are excited about what they can do there and its lack of real life constraints. Being able to solve problems of access through the combined efforts of Residents themselves and trained experts is a positive and effective way forward. Testing in-world also removes some of the potential issues around testing by people with disabilities in-world such as:

  • Travel and costs
  • Supplying equipment, assistive technologies and support
  • Payment and possible conflict of interest if a tester already earns a salary or is on benefits. Presumably payment in Linden Dollars transcends these issues.

Recently there have been some interesting projects set up looking at access for users with visual impairments most notably IBM announcing research in opening up virtual worlds to the blind. Involving users themselves is essential in any design project but especially so when it comes to users with disabilities.

I’m always looking out for people’s opinions and feedback so either post a comment here, email me (accesssecondlife @ gmail dot com), or come and join me in Second Life.

2 thoughts on “User testing by people with disabilities in Second Life

  1. Hey Martin,

    Thanks for posting the link, looks really interesting. It seems similar to Brainfingers which I tried out at CSUN earlier this year. If it is commands are more done by facial movements (such as clenching your chin, frowning, smiling and so on) than by thought.

    It’ll be interesting to see how this type of access technology compares to voice input which is what I am going to be looking at quite soon.

    By the way, are you coming to Ajax @Media Martin?

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