HearingXR: Accessible AR/VR for d/Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Users

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PhD Classic Doctoral Training Grant Funding Information 

This funding model includes a 36 month fully funded PhD Studentship, in-line with the Research Council values, which comprises a tax-free stipend paid monthly (2024/5 - £19,237) per year and a Full Time Fee Scholarship for up to 3 years, subject to you making satisfactory progression within your PhD. 

All applicants will receive the same stipend irrespective of fee status.

Application Closing Date: 

23:59 on Tuesday 30th April 2024 for a start date of the 2nd September 2024.

How to Apply 

To apply, please complete the project proposal form,ensuring that you quote the project reference, and then complete the online application where you will be required to upload your proposal in place of a personal statement as a pdf document. 

You will also be required to upload two references, at least one being an academic reference, and your qualification/s of entry (Bachelor/Masters certificate/s and transcript/s).

Project Title: HearingXR: Accessible AR/VR for d/Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Users

Project Lead: Dr Wenge Xu Wenge.Xu@bcu.ac.uk

Reference: 6 Hearing XR                        

Project Description

Over the past few years, there has been significant growth and adoption of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) devices. These devices have been utilized for various purposes, such as training, education, and leisure activities; however, these applications have not been designed with accessibility in mind and have introduced several challenges for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users in using them. As one example, audio plays a significant role in current AR/VR applications, where it has been widely used for pinpointing target locations and navigating the environment. However, d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users have issues noticing or identifying the audio resource for navigation. In addition, the current applications lack sensory substitution systems (e.g., visual prompts) to support their interaction with immersive technologies.

These challenges, however, can be easily addressed by employing a user-centred design approach with our target users and related stakeholders. This PhD project aims to (1) understand d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users’ requirements for accessible AR/VR systems and co-design accessible features with them and related stakeholders, (2) conduct a set of experimental studies with d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users to validate the designs, (3) provide insights into the design of accessible AR/VR experiences for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users.

The ultimate objective of the project is to produce an AR/VR plugin that contains several accessible features, developed based on d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users' needs, to help AR/VR designers and developers develop accessible AR/VR applications.

Anticipated Findings and Contribution to Knowledge 

The candidate will be required first to conduct observation studies to observe d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users’ experience with existing AR/VR applications and then conduct interviews with them. This would identify a list of challenges in the existing applications that need to be addressed and should produce a set of user requirements. Then, based on the user requirements, the candidate will design several features that can make AR/VR applications accessible to d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users. These features will be developed in Unity/Unreal Engine and tested in a set of experimental studies with the target users to explore their feasibility.

The findings of these experiments will be published as research papers. The following deliverables will be produced:

  • D1: A list of challenges the d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities currently face with the existing applications.
  • D2: A set of user requirements from the d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing community to make AR/VR systems accessible. 
  • D3: A Unity/Unreal Engine plugin that contains several accessibility features designed for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users. This plugin will help AR/VR developers make their AR/VR applications accessible.
  • D4: A set of accessible AR/VR design guidelines for AR/VR designers to better design their applications for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing users.

Person Specification

  • A background in Computer Science, Human Factors, Psychologyor similar fields, with an excellent first degree
  • Strong programming skills in Unity or Unreal Engine
  • Good understanding in Human-Computer Interaction
  • An interest in people
  • Kindness

Relevant Reading / Further Information

  • Joseph J. LaViola et al. 3D user interfaces theory and practice. 
  • Ronald Azuma. A Survey of Augmented Reality.
  • Chris Creed et al. Inclusive AR/VR: accessibility barriers for immersive technologies. 
  • Chris Creed et al. Inclusive augmented and virtual reality: A research agenda.