Improving Accessibility

Imagine this scenario: You’re confined to a wheelchair and have very limited use of your arms. You can’t use a physical keyboard, but you can handle a mouse or other pointing device well enough to work with an on-screen keyboard. You use Second Life; you enjoy moving around freely, talking with people, seeing all there is to see.

But one day you accidently press ‘M’ on the on-screen keyboard at the wrong time, and SL switches to mouselook mode. Exiting mouselook is a simple matter for someone fortunate enough to be able to use the keyboard, but for you, it’s impossible. You’re now completely stuck.

You can’t move your mouse to the on-screen keyboard to press Escape to exit mouse-look, because SL keeps your mouse stuck in the middle of the screen. You can’t even quit Second Life or hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete to restart the computer. The only way to get out of it would be to turn off power to the computer, then turn it back on. But being confined to a wheelchair with limited use of your arms, this task is difficult for you, if not impossible.

By making one wrong click, your computer has been made completely unusable until you can get someone else to restart it for you.

Those of us with full use of our limbs can be grateful that we won’t face such an issue. Others aren’t so fortunate. Even the able-bodied can imagine how extremely frustrating and upsetting it would be to be stuck in that situation.

What makes it worse is that it would be such a simple matter for a programmer to add an option to the Second Life viewer to prevent accidently going into mouselook, or additional ways to exit mouselook that would be more accessible. If only someone in a position to implement it had been aware, or taken the little time and effort to do it.

Well, we’re in such a position now. This project is about improving the usability of the Second Life viewer, and part of that is improving its accessibility. We have the opportunity to identify and address a wide array of accessibility issues.

If you or a loved one are disabled and using SL, or if you’re able-bodied but interested in helping improve accessibility, join us in the forums to help us catalogue accessibility issues and potential improvements. Or if you prefer the mailing list, fire off an email with your ideas (a subject of “Re: Improving Accessibility” will help keep things organized).

P.S. If you’re not familiar with software accessibility, I can enthusiastically point you towards Kippie Friedkin’s recent Second Life-oriented primer on the topic. Wikipedia also offers a decent overview of computer accessibility in general with links for further reading.

2 Responses to “Improving Accessibility”

  1. Isadora Fiddlesticks

    Hi, I referred this post to Gentle Heron of Accessibility Commons and it turns out you guys know each other already. She’s a long time friend and contact in SL and I fully support the organization. It’s great that you have people like Gentle Heron of the Accessibility Commons to communicate with.

    Will be watching for developments. I sincerely hope that we can push the suggested improvements to LL and that they actually USE IT.

  2. Second Life is my wheelchair. : The Metaverse Journal - Australia’s Virtual World News Service

    […] solutions that allow folks with very minimal physical capabilities to use Second Life, to the Imprudence team and Jacek Antonelli – just one of a number of groups looking to improve the accessibility of Second […]