Enabling Accessibility Features in Enhanced VR Environments for Supporting Spatial Abilities and Social Interaction in Elderly and MCI Patients

Enabling Accessibility Features in Enhanced VR Environments for Supporting Spatial Abilities and Social Interaction in Elderly and MCI Patients

Sofia Segkouli (Informatics and Telematics Institute, Greece & Greek Association of Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders, Greece), Ioannis Paliokas (Informatics and Telematics Institute, Greece), Thanos Tsakiris (Informatics and Telematics Institute, Greece), Konstantinos Votis (Greece Informatics and Telematics Institute, Greece), and Dimitrios Tzovaras (Informatics and Telematics Institute, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8234-4.ch008
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This chapter addresses the critical issue of usability evaluation of interfaces by elderly users and the accessibility limitations concerning the infotainment domain of virtual spaces. The main idea behind this research is to achieve a shift in more adaptive HCI used in infotainment applications and in particular in socially aware 3D Virtual Environments (Metaverses) like Second Life. Among the main goals of the present work is to examine the ability of older persons and users with Mild Cognitive Impairments (MCI) that are familiarized with computers and VR environments, to access and navigate effectively through realistic scenarios based on daily simple activities. Findings propose better design practices for industrial HCI engineers to enhance the quality of interaction with Metaverses by customizing both the immersive and 2D interfaces to the needs and preferences of the special user groups mentioned before.
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VR environments have yielded promising results for assessment of memory, attention, executive functioning, sensorimotor integration and activities of daily living. Current technological advancements promise very exciting opportunities for providing social support and a higher quality of life for the elderly. To this end, several types of systems exist that seek to address different areas in the lives of the elderly. A study by Neufeldt (2009) (as cited in Sawyerr & Pinkwart, 2011, p. 2) sought to investigate the social impact that cooperative gameplay with the Nintendo Wii could have on the elderly.

The proper inclusion of the elderly and people with MCI in everyday life activities commands for special attention to be taken during design and development of infotainment applications. Although the so called ‘Smart’ environments and devices are equipped with adaptable interfaces for younger adults, the design contributions of the older users’ have not been explicated (Jacelon & Hanson, 2013). Interfaces’ design requirements have to be customized to age-related changes in cognition (attention processes, working memory, discourse comprehension, problem solving and reasoning, and memory encoding and retrieval). Hence, adaptivity is an important key to accommodate users’ capabilities and enhance their interaction in highly interactive virtual environments.

Correlations between real-world and virtual navigational deficits exist, constituting VR testing as a promising alternative for quantifying real-world navigational performance (Cushman, Stein, & Duffy, 2008). More specifically, dementia can be early detected by testing the spatial memory through a virtual environment. In many cases clinically relevant impairments in navigational skills are often apparent in the early stages of dementia contributing to the diagnosis (Moffat, Zonderman, & Resnick, 2001). However, research concerning the difficulties and problems that people with memory decline experience while orienting and navigating in digital spaces, is still in preliminary stage (Savitch & Zaphiris, 2005). Therefore, specific design needs and guidelines have to be considered towards the effectiveness of the VR technology and the support of seniors to use it.

Key Terms in this Chapter

MCI: A brain function syndrome responsible for noticeable and measurable, but not significant enough, decline in human cognition. It is closely related to negative effects in thinking skills (non-amnestic MCI) and memory (amnestic MCI).

Interface Accessibility: This term is used to describe the degree to which a human-computer interface is accessible to as many people as possible. Being a design characteristic of the interface, it describes the ability of people with disabilities or special needs, as well as the elderly, to access and get benefited from the interface. It should not to be confused with usability.

Virtual User Model: A virtual user model describes in detail the physical, cognitive and behavioral user characteristics, including potential disabilities, functional limitations, and the affected / problematic tasks (due to the disabilities). It is commonly used in behavioural and medical studies to represent a set of users who share common characteristics to a simulation system, in order to produce experimental results.

Metaverse: An immersive 3D virtual (synthetic) shared space which includes physical world objects, avatars, simulated physical lows and phenomena (like the gravity and the weather for example). It is being perceived by its users -who use avatars to navigate- as a physically persistent collective virtual universe.

Design-For-All: This is a principle applied in the ICT products and services design, which when adopted by modern industry by paying systematic effort in computer and web based technologies leads to human diversity, social inclusion and equality 1 AU46: Endnote Reference 1 .

Virtual Reality: This term refers to the family of technologies used to deliver computer-mediated simulated environments which can offer to its visitors (users) immersive experiences. Although there are different implementations, each one with its own unique characteristics, most of VR systems simulate physical presence in imaginable or existing places. Sensory experiences include virtual haptic, sight, sound and even smell and taste in some cases.

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