ioSpan is an original augmented reality mobile application designed to support disabled people to communicate and build an immersive experience to present to an audience. The mobile application provides space for artists to input assets (including but not limited to; audio, visual or textual assets) then work with the application to tag them and generate an access-conscious user experience for a group to participate in together.
When the app is started, the audience explores their space, with each action, movement (or lack of) being interpreted by a custom built AI, using the information provided by the maker to deepen the audience's connection to them and offer a sensory experience. The audience will unlock elements of this story by interacting in predetermined ways chosen by the maker, to provide an interactive, through the keyhole, experience into a disabled maker's world and the sensory experiences that partner with their independent daily accessibility challenges.
Our research so far has allowed us to explore solutions in 3 key areas; AI driven narrative, the collection and curation of narrative elements and improvements in user accessibility. Although these headings represent different types of research and development, the way they interact in the ioSpan framework is what makes this product so unique. Rather than starting from an end point and then addressing accessibility, ioSpan takes a holistic approach in which the challenges of accessibility become the cornerstone on which the rest of the product is built. The interpretation of one format of information into another is often thought of as the core to accessible design, however this still creates an othering effect for those who can’t engage with the original form. The key disruptive factor in ioSpan is that there is no archetypal version of an experience, each iteration is an authentic exchange between the maker and the audience, at that moment, in that environment. We see this way of creating digital experiences as a structure that can be replicated beyond the specifics of the ioSpan project, potentially becoming the basis for all immersive experiences.
ioSpan began as a supported development project funded by StoryFutures, a Creative Industries Clusters programme funded by AHRC and the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge fund. StoryFutures allowed us to partner with a team of academics, Dr Anica Zeyen and Professor Tamar Pincus to research and develop the use of AI to function as an engine for immersive, narrative and accessibility-led storytelling. During development, we conducted a qualitative research period led by the academic team to translate the lived experiences of disabled people into information that could inform the development of our application. During our initial project phase we have developed a prototype of the application ready to be presented to partners within a showcase environment. We have amassed a good understanding of the needs of our audience, but further, targeted development is necessary for us to answer the questions this R&D has raised. Development of the technology in conversation with user testing and practical research will help ensure this is a tool that works for everyone.
Our ambition is that ioSpan will grow into an influencing product within the creative industries that allows people to connect and educate around disability access issues. We believe that ioSpan has the capability to be utilised extensively in the education sector as a tool for learning and connection widely available on mobile devices. In the UK 14.1 million people identify as having a disability. However, disability awareness and education of an array of disabilities is limited. We believe that ioSpan has the potential to bridge the gap and facilitate customisable training that fits a range of industrial purposes, with content that can be generated on a grass roots level.
It is key for our organisation to expand our network and grow our reach. We are targeting partnerships with collaborators, funders and organisations to allow us to grow the commercial reach of the ioSpan project. We have identified areas from cross sector collaboration in the digital and immersive technology space, education sector and charity sector that will allow us to continue our period of research. It is our hope that the work we do on this project will be recognised as an initial step towards addressing the imbalances in the immersive sector. By sharing our learnings, and promoting this work , through programmes like CIC One to Watch, we want to guide the industry towards an aesthetic of accessibility that allows for the proliferation of immersive content made by anyone for everyone.