Thesis Title
Critical examinations of disability inclusion in virtual reality

Research Description
‘Critical examinations of disability inclusion in virtual reality,’ examines the (often-ableist) standards and ideologies embedded within the production, distribution, and consumption of social virtual reality (VR). I intend to adopt a multi-method approach combining a grounded theory analysis of user-led discourse about social VR and disability on Reddit, semi-structured interviews, and iterative workshops between people with disability and VR application developers. Throughout, I will investigate how social VR perpetuates damaging norms hindering disabled users’ experience of VR-mediated sociality. Yet, I also posit that VR can offer counter-narratives to normative standards and be a locus of discovery for new ways of being.

Social VR exhibits numerous, intersections with automated decision making (ADM) technologies that are rarely examined in relation to disabled users’ experiences. Automated decisions made on the basis of speech, facial expressions, locomotion, and other behaviours can greatly disadvantage disabled users who do not fit cultural standards of normality, and who may be under- or mis-represented in training datasets. This is especially salient when it comes to decisions on moderation, authentication, or user profiling.

Implementing ADM systems without considering disabled people’s preferences and needs can also hinder their use of and access to social VR applications. For example, VRChat—a leading social VR application—introduced an automated system that identified and banned irregularities, abnormal activities, and user-generated modifications in the application (EAC: Easy Anti Cheat). This also banned modifications adding accessibility features that VRChat did not provide natively—thus barring many disabled users from comfortably using and accessing the application.

Prof Gerard Goggin, University of Sydney
Dr Ben Egliston, Queensland University of Technology
Prof Marcus Carter, University of Sydney