Second Life Accessibily Project

October 30, 2007

This is a blog dedicated to Second Life Accessibility. The growing popularity of virtual worlds as a social networking platform, means that the issues of accessibility must be addressed sooner or later. Second Life has 1.9250,245 registered users, and yet remains inaccessible to many users with visual impairments. If you use Second Life and have ideas on how it can be made more accessible, please reply to this blog with your comments or suggestions. Also if you have a visual impairment and have an opinion on the subject, get in touch. Your contributions will be of great value to this research project.

SL accessibility issues can be split into 3 categories:

1. SL website accessibility: registration process

Presently, not only is SL not compatible with screen readers, the SL website itself is largely inaccessible to people with visual impairments. Feedback from an online questionnaire I designed demonstrates that 8 out of 10 visually impaired users were unable to register for an account on the SL website. This is due to the fact that the site does not conform with W3C accessibility guidelines. Linked images have no alt attributes and form fields do not link correctly.

After attempting to register for an account one questionnaire participant responded by saying:

“I found no easy step by step guide that would say what to expect, or even give me any reason to overcome the obstacles for joining”… their reasons for wanting to join SL – “ online community to join. But only if it represented a cross-section of real life. I’m not interested in anything that so flagrantly excludes disabled people”.

2. SL viewer accessibility

On January 8, 2007, Linden Labs announced that the viewer source code s being released into the public domain. In their official blog  Linden Labs refered to the SL client going open source as “embracing the inevitable”.

At present there are a number of alternate viewers available for download, however none of these have yet been made fully accessible to visually impaired users.

3. Grid accessibility

Making the world itself accessible is perhaps one of the hardest tasks facing Linden Labs and SL users themselves. All the content within Second Life is user generated, the solution would therefore be to implement some sort of guidelines requiring users to label all generated content (the equivalent of alt tags on websites), these lables can then be read by asisstive technologies such as screen readers allowing visually impaired users to navigate the grid.