In this episode, Mai Ling talks with CEO of the XR Association (XRA), Elizabeth Hyman, about the benefits of using immersive technology in ways to empower persons with disabilities. XRA is the trade association representing the technology...
In this episode, Mai Ling talks with CEO of the XR Association (XRA), Elizabeth Hyman, about the benefits of using immersive technology in ways to empower persons with disabilities. XRA is the trade association representing the technology manufacturers that power the virtual, augmented, and mixed reality industries. Elizabeth helps to define the terminology and explain the work XRA is doing to integrate these powerful technologies in innovative ways by creating industry best practices and working directly with developers. This conversation is full of information on this exciting emerging technology.
Contact Mai Ling: MLC at mailingchan.com
Contact Martyn: Martyn at martynsibley.com
I am excited about this technology because it actually can help lift people up. There's just so many ways in which immersive technologies can help to lift our society in positive ways.
Mai Ling 00:19
Welcome to exceptional leaders with Mai Ling and Martyn, where we give you front row access to intimate conversations that are shaping the way the world is supporting people with disabilities. If it's happening, it's being shared here, am Mai Ling and I'm so happy to have Martyn Sibley back with me this week. Yay.
I am back from holiday and from all sorts of busy work stuff the week before. It's great to be back with you Mai Ling. How are you?
Mai Ling 00:42
I am so good. I am sure our listeners happy to have you back too. My intros are much shorter when I don't have somebody to banter with.
Well, I'm looking forward to talking about today's episode. So, it's, you've interviewed Liz Hyman (https://xra.org/about/) and her amazing leadership as the CEO of the XR Association. And it's a really interesting, general topic, I think, you know, if anyone's into sort of futurism and technology, and where the world is heading, and all the trends, it, it's a fascinating conversation in general. And then of course, when you overlay the disability and the accessibility side, it makes for a doubly interesting conversation, they give the listeners a little bit of an insight into the interview, and a little bit about Liz and that topic.
Mai Ling 01:28
Yes, before we start, I want to redefine xR for everyone, because I too, sometimes get mixed up with all of the different types of augmented and virtual and you know, types of realities. So xR is actually a mix of augmented, and then virtual and it really immerses the user in the space, which is amazing if you've had any experience with Oculus (https://www.oculus.com/). Martyn, do you have an Oculus?
I don't, I had something. We actually spoke to the guys at Facebook Reality Labs (https://tech.fb.com/ar-vr/) a few weeks ago at Purple Goat, and sort of been doing some research and just having some conversations that got me a little bit interested and a little bit envious that I've not got one. So, it's something I'll eventually take the plunge into. But I got my new PS5 like a month ago. And that's keeping me pretty busy at the moment. But well, one thing I noticed with that was I was wondering why it's xR, but I believe that x is for cross. So, it sort of crosses augmentative and virtual realities but yeah, have you got an Oculus yourself Mai Ling?
Mai Ling 02:32
I do. And I love it, we got it during the pandemic. And it was absolutely incredible how it scales to you and your actual height. So, I am barely five feet, my husband's six feet. And when I play it, obviously it calibrates to me, and you know, like things aren't out of my reach. So, everything comes to you, which is really cool. And then when my husband's playing, you know, everything comes to him. And a great example of this is we play golf, and it's virtual. So, my brother can log in my two sons can login. And when they come next to me with the game, they don't have a body that they just have a head, but their head is taller than me, but it's actually the same height that it should be in real life. Isn't that cool?
So clever. Yeah, that's amazing. Even there you sort of you know, for me, when I look at disability and accessibility and inclusion it in the end, it's kind of that something's designed for everybody. It's adaptable. And it's like, even with customer service, it's just treating people with all our brilliant, beautiful, unique differences. And even that what you've just explained is the epitome of that isn't that it's sort of the different heights, and yet everyone can still have a really fun game of golf and be represented in their unique ways.
Mai Ling 03:46
Exactly. And that's what Liz is working on with the XR Association. The xR association is actually a trade association that represents these technologies, people who are creating the games who are creating products. And what the association is doing is making sure that everyone is being thoughtful in their advancement of the technologies and being, thinking about accessibility, thinking about how they're developing things. And I'm sure that you've known a lot about this talking about accessibility in gaming as a whole. You know, I know Xbox has been at the forefront of that. But do you have any experience in this area?
Yeah, as I mentioned, having got the PS5. So I've been quite fortunate that the PS5 controller I'm able to operate most of it, despite my sort of weaker upper body and my dexterity difficulties, I'm still just about able to manage but when I hadn't played on a console for quite a few years up to the pandemic, I dusted off my old PS3 so I've sort of been in the dark ages until plunging for the PS5 and I was trying to sort of get a variety of things set up so I could play with the PS3 controller on my laptop or I could use the PS3 controller on my stepbrother's PS4. And I found this amazing charity based in the UK and not for profit, called special effect. And they had this amazing way with different sort of wires and technologies, both hardware and software to help find the right controller in terms of this was very specific to my own situation. And I learned there that Xbox has done quite a lot in that world, certainly, from what I understood a lot more than PlayStation had done. And then separately, we were, I was asked to give a presentation to some of the marketing managers across Europe at Xbox like two weeks ago. So, I did some research about the broader community and what the kind of needs and the challenges are with gaming. But Xbox then shared, all the stuff they've done, and they've done a lot around the adapted controllers, like literally people can use their feet or their mouth for like, it's just so interesting how whatever people's different needs, and you know the limit, say limitations were a negative word. But you know, without disabilities, there's actually a way to still be able to participate. And when I come back, so for me what I love about gaming, particularly playing on FIFA was on my phone, I am very into football or soccer, as you say
Mai Ling 06:17
It's been that I've never been able to kick a ball. But I can be on FIFA or on my PS5 and play like anyone else in terms of the famous footballers. And so yeah, it’s kind of distorts reality, and you can be anything you want to be. And I think that's something so exciting about the Oculus, the VR, the AR the XR, as we're talking about today, and how it can really bring people into new worlds and new abilities.
Mai Ling 06:47
Absolutely. And for our listener, if you search back through our previous episodes, I did interview Andrew Pilkington and Erin Hawley, and they were both people who have disabilities that helped work with Xbox on these accessible controllers. Erin Hawley actually she, she has a blog called Geeky Gimp (https://geekygimp.com/about/). And I believe that's how they found her because she is very accomplished as a female gamer. So cool. And also, I want to invite you, we are going to be spotlighting her in person at a chapter reading in Keyport, New Jersey. So if you're local Monmouth County, you want to drive down the parkway or up the parkway there, we would love for you to join us, it's going to be July 10 2021, at the Keyport, Coffee Cafe, and Martyn, her mom's going to read her chapter for her. Because she doesn’t, she doesn't feel she has enough breath support to be able to get through a chapter reading, right. So, her mom's going to do it, I just I think this is going to be amazing. And she was one of our coauthors in Becoming an Exceptional Leader. So, this will be the first of our author spotlights. And I hope that I can get out to you someday. And we'll be able to do yours in person too.
Sounds like a plan sounds like a very good plan, I still can't believe we've never been in the same room it's so crazy.
Mai Ling 07:57
I know, we will someday.
Cool. Well, before we get into the interview itself, just the usual shout outs around social media. So please do follow us like some of the usual channels, particularly Facebook and Instagram, we're pretty prevalent there. And you can sign up to the mailing list on XceptionalLeaders.com. I think most of all, for a podcast, it's great if whatever platform you're listening to us on to give us a review could be a very quick one, it doesn't need to take too long. But we really want to get up the kind of search criteria on the podcast is to get out to more people and impact more people positively. And as always, we'd love to hear what you think of the show and any guests that you think we should be interviewing any topics you'd like us to cover as well. So yeah, please do help us in that way if you have a couple of minutes.
Mai Ling 08:46
Excellent. All right. Well, let's get to this interview.
Let's do it.
Mai Ling 08:53
So, I'm here today with Liz Hyman, the CEO and founder of the XR Association. And this is a trade association that represents tech manufacturers and all of these other groups that are involved in virtual, augmented, and mixed realities. And the reason why Liz is so important to us today is because she is really focused in the space of accessibility. So welcome, Liz.
Thank you, Mai. I really appreciate it. It's great to be here.
Mai Ling 09:17
Thank you. Our listeners are, you know, from everywhere we have parents, we have people who have disabilities, people are in the space of disabilities. And this new area of xR is slowly encroaching on us. And there's still you know, many of us that aren't really sure of what that encompasses. So, could you just take a moment and explain that?
Yeah, absolutely. xR is an umbrella term for virtual augmented and mixed reality technologies and even some immersive tech that has yet to be invented, which is very exciting. And when you think about virtual reality, imagine if you will, you have you know, this headset and you're immersed into a reality that is occluded from your real world in other words, you are on planet Mars, you know, along with the rover taking in dust, and you have no idea what's going on in your living room, because you are completely immersed in that experience. augmented reality is a little bit different. It's where you have a complete understanding of your natural surroundings. So, you could be looking at you, I'm looking at my desk wall here, in my home office, but I can have information that's overlaid on to that real image. So imagine if you will, all of a sudden, instead of looking at my poster that's hanging on the wall, all of a sudden, some augmented information comes in that my phone is ringing, and it's Mai calling, or, you know, in real world, we're seeing a lot of this, for example, in retail where you can try before you buy, you know, you can try on a pair of Warby Parker glasses on you. But it's augmented information,
Mai Ling 10:55
It's so amazing too.
it's really kind of neat. And then the third piece is mixed reality. And this is where you're taking, again, you sort of have a very good understanding of your real world surroundings, but you're able to interact with the augmented information, you can touch the widget, you can collaborate with your peers on an engine that you all are working on. There's could be volumetric or holographic information that you know, you pinch and turn and use. And it's a very exciting kind of combination of the virtual and augmented world. So that's a quick overview of what we're talking about when we say xR,
Mai Ling 11:35
Absolutely excellent. And in, on a personal experience, I have the Oculus quest. And I love it so much, however, it is heavy, and it does press, you know, on my face, and so my family knows what I've been playing long as I take it off, you know, and I have all this section all around my face, oh my gosh. But it's really opened up the world for people who have disabilities, because you have all of these abilities that you didn't have before beyond just the like Xbox experience, right. And so that's a great segue for us to move into this accessibility area. So, before we do that, you can tell me a little bit about yourself, I mean, just a woman in tech, I know that you've been involved for years in a lot of really interesting areas. So instead of reading your bio, maybe you could share a little bit with us.
When I first started my career, I was actually in government, I started in state government. And then very early on, I had the privilege to go work at the Department of Justice. And I will share this only because it gives a perspective about being a woman in a career. My very first day, I walked into the Department of Justice, and I looked at my new boss, who happened to be Janet Reno, the attorney general of the United States.
Mai Ling 12:42
And then I looked one seat over and the deputy attorney general was woman by the name of Jamie Gorelick. And then I looked over, and the head of the Criminal Division was a wonderful woman. And the head of the division was a wonderful woman. And I just kept going ahead of the Office of Justice Programs, they were all there for the morning staff meeting antitrust division, everybody, they were women, and so...
Mai Ling 13:07
I think I had the advantage very early on; I was 28 years old when I walked in through that door. And that was the norm. That's what I expected to be around smart, capable women. And so, I've always carried that sort of like, Well, of course, it's supposed to be that way perspective. And yet, when you get into technology, you know that it is dominated in large part by males, and that women are a growing segment and a very important voice. Because we bring different perspectives to the conversation in terms of collaboration in terms of sharing in success, not to say that our friends of the male gender, don't do that. But I just think there's certain things that are unique and special about women in the way that they approach the workforce.
Mai Ling 13:56
Absolutely. It's fantastic. And I'm a speech language pathologist. And it sounds like you're also a really good communicator. And that's something that we definitely need, you know, to cross, not only the male female divide, but also this cultural divide of tech, you know, there's a different tech language that goes on. And I know that because I've been working with Cognixion, as a speech language pathologist, but also working on the headset, that we're working on the BCI and AR. So just fascinating. Thank you for sharing that with us. I think it's really important to get an understanding of where you've come from. And then in the past couple years, we've started to put a focus on accessibility. And it's now to the point where it is essential. You know, there's no other word for that. So, you founded this xR Association. So, what was your ideation of doing that? And then how did you move into accessibility?
Well, I should clarify a little bit. I'm the founding CEO, but the companies themselves they're members of our organization, and it is a member driven organization and they had a very clear vision that they didn't want to wait to take on issues that had confounded technology in the past. So, if you think about mobile technology in the smartphone, it took a little while when that first came out. And it took a lot of work from the disabled community to express to the manufacturers, hey, this is a great tool, but it's not necessarily working for us. And, you know, eventually the ship was righted. But our members felt very strongly that we wanted to have this conversation at the beginning that we understand that, you know, we're engaged, our mission statement is the responsible development of xR technology. And part of being a responsible steward of that technology is making sure that it is open and accessible and inclusive to as many people as possible. After all, that's what xR is about right is creating those accessible and inclusive spaces. So, so that was sort of front and center. And one of the early work pieces that we took on was to create a chapter in our developers guide, that would address accessibility, you mentioned it earlier Mai, and the developers guide is just that it's an it's a set of best practices that are intended for the developer community, and for the technology platforms to think about certain issues. So, our first chapter was around sort of basic safety and ergonomics. Our second chapter was around what I would call online safety, right? When the user environment, what are the rules of engagement, if you will, and then our third chapter was accessibility. And we wanted to share with developers really good tips and ideas for how to make the technology accessible and baked in from the beginning. We all understand the hardware is developing rapidly, but it still has, you know, many iterations to go. But by using software, there's so much that we can do right now. You know, whether it's a visual issue cognitive mobility, auditory, so we put together the set of best practices to share with the developer’s community early on. So, I don't know if that point answered your question. But...
Mai Ling 17:06
Yeah, no, this is wonderful.
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Mai Ling 18:31
Now let's get back to our amazing interview. So, there's a couple of points I want to bring in here. So, the first is a shout out to an interview I did with Alan Brightman. And you can look through our list of episodes to search for that. He is the founder of Apple's Disability Solutions Group. And this was back in November of 2020. And he shares how he literally had to sit down Steve Jobs, John Sculley and execs at Apple and say, Okay, put your hands under your legs and try to turn the computer on. And they laughed. And he was like, No, I'm serious. And that was the beginning of what does accessibility, you know, actually mean? And so that actually brings me to the next step is, again, just looking at my own work with Cognixion is you have addressable populations, right? So, who, who is going to be using this product? So, I'm thinking about as you're talking to developers who's coming to the site who's using this product, and there's all these words, they have a diagnosis. So, we have cerebral palsy, you know, you have all of these diagnosis, and then you have these symptoms, right? But the real value list is for the person who's coding is to really understand the person that is going to be sitting down in front of their product, and how they're going to be first person experience experiencing it. And that's amazing, because I'm listening to you like best practices, you know, I'm sure there's all of these great terminologies but how are you bridging that real lived experience? And I feel like that's my responsibility here. You know, and the people that are listening, like we need to get you to talk to the leaders and the people that are creating this, but they need to make it for the real people who are using it, not what they think somebody needs.
So, I did a panel, we put it together for South by Southwest (https://www.sxsw.com/), just a few weeks ago. And one of my panels...well, everybody talked about this, we had Andrew Ikki, from alchemy, we had Christopher Patnoe from Google (https://www.linkedin.com/in/patnoe/). And we had, yeah, and Christian who is from Gallaudet, Christian Vogler (https://my.gallaudet.edu/christian-vogler), excuse me. And so, we were all talking about this issue. And a lot of this is making sure that you include Persons with Disabilities at the beginning, when you are trying to develop something, you know, whether it's a software application, or hardware, or whatever it may be. All these developers, they have panels to try things out. And it's really vital that you start to get persons with disabilities involved in the testing of the you know, original product right at the beginning, so they can give you feedback, how is this working for them? And they're also I think, efforts afoot to make sure that you know, there are engineers that are involved in the project so that there's a constant feedback loop of how is this technology working? What does it mean for somebody who has a cognitive disability? Or somebody who, you know, maybe can't use their hands with the same dexterity that you and I can? How does this work?
Mai Ling 21:21
Exactly, I'm sitting here, I am pointing on the nose, this is it, you did it, I'm sure that our listeners clapping and applauding, because that's exactly what has happened is we've become a community of just, you know, saying it over and over by us, for us, you know, the person who's actually using it has got to be on the team, I've had the honor of interviewing a number of people who have been on the forefront of the Xbox controllers. And they've been amazing, you know, to show that not everybody uses their thumb and their fingers, you know, to shoot and climb and do all of these things. And they have become like celebrity gamers now using these alternative accessible controllers, and it could be foot pedals. You know, it's just absolutely incredible. And then, of course, the space that we're in, you know, brain computer interface, is there a time when we're going to be able to use our brain, thoughts, energy signals, you know, in order to control things. But the question is like, what do we need to control? So, do we really want it so that we can go out and get better at Gears of War, or so I can turn my air conditioner up or down, because my caregiver has left for the day?
That's right, that raises a number of different thoughts in my mind. There are some really exciting pieces of work that are taking place. You know, I know, Google and Christopher Patnoe, have been very engaged in closed captioning for virtual reality, and how is that going to work because you're now pivoting around a space rather than a static presentation on a TV screen. And what is the best way to work on something like that, Facebook Reality Labs just recently started talking about a sensor that's on one's wrist, that can sense what your brain is telling your hand to do. Right? Now, there are lots of applications. But from an accessibility point of view, I'm sort of fascinated by that. I don't know that they would say this, but that maybe there's a way that somebody who didn't have full use of them of their hands now can in a virtual world. So that's something you know, potentially, that's out there, the things around vision, and being able to help those with low vision or no vision at all, to navigate in a virtual or augmented space is really exciting. So, there's a lot going on, but,
Mai Ling 23:29
It's so exciting, you know, there's so many important points here. I am just, I'm really excited to be speaking with you. Because I feel like you are the megaphone here, you know, and if there's anything that people in our community can do to support you, please reach out, I'm gonna have Liz's information, you know, where you can connect with her. But this bias for us is essential. It really is for the future. And there's so many things that the tech people are, they don't know, there's no way they could know, you know, so there's a lot of things that you actually have to see it happening. And then they go through all of their experience and, and talent and creativity. They go, hey, what if we tried this, but that only comes out of seeing exactly what someone is experiencing and seeing the need? You know, and I've seen that magic happen in our own team. And it's like, yes, that's exactly what we want.
Well, the only thing I just want to stress to your to your listeners, a couple of things. One is please share the Developer's Guide. If you're out in the community, the XR community, we want to make sure that developers understand that there are easy tools out there to help them think about this. So that's one thing. The other thing is, um, you know, I've really enjoyed as a volunteer participating in something called the XR access community. And that is a community of volunteers who care deeply about bias for us, as you said earlier, and making sure that we're baking these things in from the beginning. And it includes persons with disabilities. It includes industry, it includes academics, you know, a broad swath of individuals who care about this and I would encourage people to get involved. It's a completely voluntary group. And they're doing great work, that we're honored to work with them and participate in. So, So there are a lot of really neat outlets there to get engaged.
Mai Ling 25:14
You know, here's a great intro question is how do you approach a company and say, I want to be involved, whether you're a parent, if you're somebody with a disability that you know, you have a really relevant idea or feedback, you know, what's the best way to get past that? You know, hello at email?
Well, first of all, yes, there's a Hello at email. And I would recommend that y ‘all reach out to us on our website, I think it's like info@XRA.org. And we're always interested in hearing from the community. Again, I think that groups like xR access also are a tremendous platform for people, not only to just say, I have a great idea, but I have a great idea, and what do I do about it? And so, we're all collaborating together on these types of conversations. I will say one of the things that is different about our organization as opposed to you know, others, we're an industry trade association. And one of the things that we take very seriously is educating policymakers about what type of work we're doing for xR broadly, right. So, for example, right now, we're trying to make sure that immersive technologies are included in a bill that's going through the Senate right now called the Endless Frontier Act, which would prioritize r&d focus and spending on emerging technologies. We want to make sure that immersive tech is there. But I raised this because we want to make sure that we're educating policymakers that this technology and the people that care about it are thinking about accessibility, they want to make sure that this conversation is a give and take, so that those that are elected, those that are serving those that think about these big policy questions are aware of the technology, how it works and what it means in the accessibility conversation.
Mai Ling 26:59
Absolutely. And when we spoke earlier, you told me that you had just met with Rhode Island, Congressman Langevin (https://langevin.house.gov/), can you tell me a little bit about that? And him because I don't know if our listener knows him?
Sure. Congressman Langevin is really a remarkable human being. He's from Rhode Island. And he's served, I believe, close to 20 years. He's in leadership on the Armed Services Committee in Congress. But he's also the co-founder and co-chair of the disability’s caucus, a caucus in Congress is sort of like, special interest group, right. It's members of Congress that come together to learn about particular issues as a collective, you know, because they don't necessarily have staff for a million different issues. This is a way about learning something. And the reason that Congressman Langevin is just so impressive about this is that he himself is disabled. When he was a young man, he was the victim of an accident that severed his spinal cord. And so, he has a dean Kamen, like, souped up awesome wheelchair. He has been an eloquent spokesman for ADA and for the accessibility issues writ large. And he's also one of the leading thinkers around high tech and particularly cybersecurity. So bringing all of these issues together, it was really interesting just to hear his perspective, which he shared with our membership around tech and accessibility, and just to start a good solid conversation with someone such as, as the Congressman, who's going to be a leader in these types of issues. So, it was it was just an impressive opportunity to hear from someone, not only for their smarts, their brands, their lived experience, all of it.
Mai Ling 28:43
So Exactly. Well, I'm part of my professional organization that's called ASHA, Americans Speech Language Hearing Organization (https://www.asha.org/). And of course, they are advocating for us at the national level, for everything that we need. And it's so good to hear the work that you're doing, Liz and the future planning that you're doing. And you know, it's like you can't go from zero to 60. And so, I can hear that you guys are really going about this in a smart way.
Mai Ling 29:04
Well, thank you.
Mai Ling 29:06
You mentioned the Developer's Guide, can you let us know how we can get our hands on that?
Yes, you can go to XRA.org. That is our website. And you'll see under Resources, there is a page that has all of our work. But in that particular page is the Developer's Guide, it's chapter three. And I'd be happy to share it with you as a link that you can share with your audience as well.
Mai Ling 29:33
That'd be wonderful. And then if our listener wants to get more involved in the association, what does that look like if you're not a tech industry person?
So, we are an industry trade association. So, our members are the companies themselves and then the individuals that are within those companies. So, if you're a tech company that is in the immersive technology space, we'd love to hear from you. We'd be you know, very open to having a conversation about membership and you know, go from there. We're really excited about it.
Mai Ling 30:02
Excellent. Well, I know I've already put us in touch with Cognixion. So, we're on our way there. Thank you so much, Liz, I know I've learned a lot. And it's just more understanding of how we are, we're moving safely into technology, because I know there still is that, you know, scary feeling that the robots are going to take over. And we're not going to have any jobs, or you know, freewill, it's there. But I just want to say how grateful I am that people like you are at the helm of our future. So, thanks so much.
Thanks so much. And I'm excited about this technology because it actually can help lift people up. When you think about job training. When you think about educational content. When you think about healthcare applications. There's just so many ways in which immersive technologies can help to lift our society in positive ways. Yes, we do need to work through some of those scary things. But I think the positives are just so tremendous. We're really excited about it.
Mai Ling 30:58
Excellent. Well, thanks for sharing with us today. Thank you. Thanks so much for joining us for this episode. And I invite you to connect with me directly at Malingchan.com. We also want you to let us know what you think about the show ideas and how we can continue to help you or referrals to a great guest, through our Facebook group at XceptionalLeaders podcast, or email us at email@example.com.
Yes, Mai Ling, I totally agree. I know we're both really mission driven people. And for me, it's always been this big mission, to have a world that fully inclusive for all people. And in the end, that's probably why we've bonded and come together so well on this podcast, Xceptional Leaders podcast, because we get to meet cool people, give them a platform to share their story, and really just make such an impact in the disability world. I love it and also for everyone listening please do head over to disabilityhorizons.com This is the magazine that I co-founded about 10 years ago. We've got a free mailing list there for all the latest article news, and discounts for the shop if that's your kind of thing. And definitely definitely do get your copy of Becoming an Exceptional Leader book. We want you to get as much information as you need and to be as successful as you can be.