PhD candidate Johann Wentzel makes virtual reality more accessible

Monday, May 22, 2023

Computer science doctoral candidate Johann Wentzel aims to make virtual reality more accessible for disabled people.

“Most of my work is in making VR more accessible for people with motor disabilities or impairments by using the input devices they already have rather than potentially inaccessible VR controllers,” Johann says. 

For example, he looks at how to define meaningful VR experiences for someone who only has access to a button switch and a joystick on their power chair.

Under the supervision of Professor Daniel Vogel, Johann conducts research in the Expressive Input & Interaction group within Waterloo’s Human-Computer Interaction research lab. His experiences in the HCI lab and in work terms at Microsoft and Meta have given him a wide range of perspectives and influenced his approach to researching accessibility in VR.

His research is funded by a Cheriton Graduate Scholarship and an NSERC Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship.

photo of Johann Wentzel wearing VR glasses

Johann Wentzel is a PhD student in the Waterloo HCI Lab. His research focuses on making VR more accessible, which includes working with accessibility-oriented communities, developing assistive technologies and interaction techniques for VR, and working with developers to implement these techniques.

Building accessibility into VR

“There are so many aspects of spatial technology, like VR and AR, that are fundamentally inaccessible for people who don’t fit the ability assumptions that these technologies are making,” Johann says. “So, say if you don’t have the full use of your arms, how are you going to play a game like Beat Saber where you have to wave your hands around?”

Johann is drawn to VR accessibility research because it presents both a practical and an intellectual challenge. Compared with other platforms like desktop or mobile computing, VR doesn’t have widespread systems that allow people to use their preferred input devices.

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