CEO of Direct Access, Steven Mifsud MBE, tells us how he thinks the metaverse will impact accessibility for disabled and neurodivergent people.
The metaverse has been looming over the events industry for the past three years, foretelling an era of event planning and communications that will overthrow all we know now. Though this overhaul to a digital realm hasn’t yet taken hold, it gives us time to consider how inclusive it will be for companies to integrate the metaverse into their daily business operations while treating all employees equally.
Direct Access has advocated accessibility and inclusion since 2004, spreading its message through consultancy, products, and accessible media. It’s also a certified Disability Owned and Operated Business Enterprise. Steven Mifsud MBE, Director and Founder, shares his thoughts on the approaching reality of the metaverse: “Direct Access has been watching the developments being made in this area. We believe that the collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual reality has some very interesting possibilities when it comes to accessibility.
“A digital universe where people can interact with each other and digital objects as if they were in the real
world has huge benefits especially for neurodivergence and those potentially with severe mobility impairments.” In a world where neurodiverse people are more likely to be unemployed than people with any other disability, with unemployment for neurodivergent adults running at least as high as 30 to 40%, according to My Disability Jobs, changes to the workplace which benefit neurodiverse people are sorely needed. Steven adds: “The metaverse can provide new opportunities for social interaction, creativity, and self-expression. For neurodivergent individuals who may find traditional social settings challenging, the metaverse could offer a more comfortable and inclusive environment. Throughout the pandemic, we learnt a lot of lessons and discovered many people would prefer to undertake meetings online opposed to face-to-face when people were able to control their own sensory environment.”
Benefiting those with mobility impairments is another often unacknowledged issue. People with mobility issues frequently experience a severe a lack of assistive technology which would help them work – often leading to unemployment with only 21% of professionals with disabilities being in employment in 2022. Steven says: “The traction being made in recent years as technology has advanced to the point where immersive and interconnected virtual experiences are becoming more feasible is fascinating. The encompassment of virtual reality, augmented reality, online social spaces, and more, has the potential to significantly impact those with disabilities who may not currently be able to interact, work, and play in the future. It opens potential doors.”
Looking toward the future of the metaverse Steven comments: “While the concept of the metaverse is still evolving and we may not yet fully understand it. Its inclusivity will depend on how it is further developed and utilised. It has the potential to be a space where people from diverse backgrounds can interact and collaborate. However, it’s important for developers and creators to consciously design the metaverse with inclusivity in mind, ensuring that all individuals can participate and feel represented. Disabled people should form part of its development so accessibility or more importantly inclusion is held at the core. As with any emerging technology, inclusivity and accessibility should be central considerations as the metaverse continues to take shape.”