brian_van_burenBrian Van Buren is a narrative designer at Tomorrow Today Labs, and he’s also a wheelchair user who has been evangelizing how to make virtual reality experiences more accessible. I had a chance to catch up with him at the Intel Buzz Workshop in June where we talked about some of his accessibility recommendations to other virtual reality developers, some good and bad examples of accessibility in VR, as well as some of things that VR technologies enable him to do in a virtual world that he can’t do in the real world.


Some of the primary recommendations that Van Buren gives is that you can’t assume the dimensions of your user. Just because he’s is 4 foot 6 inches, doesn’t mean that he should be automatically assigned a child’s body avatar. Also, because he’s primarily sitting down, he’d still like to be able to participate in games that require you to crouch down and duck. Some of the experiences that handle this well are Hover Junkers that provides a head model adjustment for people of different heights, and he’s also able to play Space Pirate Trainer. The little human mode in Job Simulator will also raise the head a foot and a half to provide access to both children as well as people in wheelchairs.

Van Buren recommends against placing objects on the ground as they’re essentially game-breaking bugs for people in wheelchairs, but also generally not ergonomically comfortable for most people. Placing buttons at waist height when standing has the side effect of being fairly comfortable for people are sitting or in a wheelchair, and that highly placed objects are completely out of reach. There are Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations that most federal and government buildings have to follow, and virtual reality environment developers should keep some of these design constraints in mind.

He says that it’s easier to take accessibility into consideration at the design stage rather than afterwards, and so the sooner that you account for mobility constraints, the better. There are tradeoffs of including kinesthetic gameplay mechanics like crouching, crawling, bending, reaching up that may provide deeper sense of presence for able-bodied people who are of a certain height, but Van Buren asks to consider whether or not some of those mechanics are absolutely vital to the game that it’s worth making the game inaccessible to a portion of people.

Van Buren had heard my previous interview with Katie Goode about accessibility, which encouraged him in that there were other people who were thinking about making VR more accessible. Katie wrote up a great blog post talking about the accessibility design considerations in Unseen Diplomacy, and Adrienne Hunter also wrote up a great overview of designing VR for people with physical limitations.

For a more in-depth discussion on “Making VR and AR Truly Accessible,” then be sure to also check out this Virtual Reality Developer’s Conference panel discussion featuring Minds + Assembly’s Tracey John, Radial Games’ Andy Moore, Tomorrow Today Labs’ Brian Van Buren, and independent designer Kayla Kinnunen:

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  • Mane Vr

    damn about time u guys talk bout this issue I been getting guys in wheelchair messaging me for a while now on my youtube page cause I test and show which games play well seated and my setting for a good play that is if u can handle the locomotion. the roomscale crowd always seem to forget about the people who can’t walk around jump, duck or dodge. this is y thumbstick/touchpad turning is a most in vr games

  • Ethan James Trombley

    My brother came over for Christmas and I ran him through a VR gambit. He is paralyzed from the waist down and in a Wheel Chair (insert shameless Performax plug here). I had him play A chair in a Room, Arizona Sunshine, Space Pirate Trainer, and a myriad of others and he was able to play most games completely by himself which was awesome. Still though there were 2 segments in A Chair in A Room that I had to help a bit, overall it seems most developers are taking these things into account and I’m very thankful to Buren for that. Without his advocacy many developers may not have had their games as readily accessible. VR is amazing and I’m grateful that developers are doing a great job on the accessibility front so far and hope they keep up the good work!

  • Get Schwifty!

    So…. it turns out there IS a market for seated/front-facing play after all ;)

    “True VR” is definitely not just about room scale….

    • Ethan James Trombley

      My brother is in a wheelchair and he much preferred the ability to move around room scale. He simply would put the controllers in his lap and move around.

  • Joshua Watler

    How can i get more involved in this discussion?

  • Anton Korhonen

    Lockdown: Stand Alone has been developed with disability support in mind. Height adjustment, raycast item grabbing and assisted rotation features allows for the full experience while sitting on a wheelchair.

  • Bushpossum

    By the way, many wheelies (myself included) are active gamers but have extra access issues. I use a power wheelchair, not manual. Also, my hand function is affected (this generally happens if you break your neck, not your back). Incidentally, people who injure their spine in their neck are called quadriplegic or tetraplegic. This means that all four limbs are affected, not that you cannot move all four limbs. Many, probably most people with quadriplegia can move their hands or arms to some degree. Squeezing buttons on a controller is however almost impossible. I have no trouble gaming with a mouse and keyboard at my desk. Pushing down on a button is often ok, squeezing a button much more demanding. This exciting emerging field is wonderful for those of us who are less mobile. Maybe I can’t skydive easily in RL, but I could in VR. I hope that designers can find ways to include all of us. Cheers, BP.