Assistive Tech Meets Augmented Reality

In a recent Touchstone article, we looked at the ways Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) supports people with disabilities to communicate and access the world around them.

Immersive technologies like Virtual and Augmented Reality offer people with and without disability alternative ways to access information and the world around them.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality simulates a 3D environment that can be like or different to reality. It is the end point of the reality to virtuality spectrum (see graphic below). Familiar examples of VR can include playing games using a VR headset.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality is the second step in the reality spectrum, where virtual objects are commonly overlaid on real-world environments. Some examples you may have experienced include Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters.

a graphic depicting the Reality-Virtual Reality spectrum

Image Caption: Above is a graphic on the Reality-Virtual Reality spectrum, which indicates how AR, the combination of virtual and real-world objects versus VR is being immersed in a fully digital world.

VR and AR can remove barriers for people with disabilities, as they offer alternative ways to experience art, community, travel and more.

We’ve collated some cool examples of how VR and AR are being used to assist people with disabilities.

Haptic technology

Haptic technology aims to simulate the sensation of touch. In AR settings, wearable devices use haptics to transmit vibrations that enhance an environment or experience. If you have ever used a video game controller or an Apple Watch, you will have experienced haptic technology.

Touching Masterpieces

A company called Neurodigital has taken this idea even further by developing wearable gloves that can trigger specific haptic responses within any scenario. Through their VR technology, a person with vision impairment or blindness can ‘virtually’ run their hands over a sculpture, with haptics simulating the texture and feel.


Running Blind

In 2017, Simon Wheatcroft ran the New York Marathon wearing The Wayband, a GPS for people with blindness designed by a Brooklyn-based startup called WearWorks. He became the first blind person to run the marathon unaided, wearing the startup’s haptic prototype.


Getting ready to hit the road

At a number of CPL service centres, people with disability can learn how to drive in a safe, virtual environment. Through its VR driving simulator.

The VR setup includes screens with driving simulator software, a racing stand and keyboard, gear shifter and a driving cockpit. With this technology, many participants are gaining confidence in their ability to be able to drive while learning about road and car safety at the same time. These tools and techniques are all essential when it comes to being able to gain your licence, and operate a vehicle on a day-to-day basis.

A Driver's seat in front of a steering wheel and tv screen showing a simulation of a road.

Image caption: the driving simulator at CPL's Hope Island service on the Gold Coast.

With the rise of VR and AR technology, more engineers and designers are innovating new ways to use technology to assist people with disability to live their best lives.

Have you seen any other cool examples of VR or AR for people living with disabilities?

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Published by the CPL Team
A person on the driving simulator, pictured from behind. Another person is crouched down beside them looking at the driving simulation on the screen.