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We’ve evolved from sharing files and connecting through email to the norm of real-time data sharing and multi-person video calls spanning continents. With the recent past offering a wealth of new lessons, forward-thinking leaders are learning from the recent pivot to hybrid work environments to inform their next step: The metaverse.
Last summer, KPMG U.S. and KPMG Canada launched the first KPMG metaverse collaboration hub, a virtual space where employees, clients and communities can explore opportunities for growth across industries and sectors.
We know that the metaverse — and the journey toward broad adoption — provide ample opportunities. As we move into this future, leaders should incorporate accessibility and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to build a responsible and inclusive metaverse environment.
Prioritize accessibility from the beginning
In the metaverse, much like the real world, the audience is wide-ranging. It spans all ages — from teenagers to adults — so efforts must account for different communication styles, materials and restrictions, as well as responsibilities around communicating with young adults, coworkers and elders.
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Our recent U.S. survey found that one-third of those in Gen Z, millennials and Gen X are already participating (or are likely to participate) in the metaverse. Another third are open to participating.
The metaverse’s possible use cases aren’t restricted to any one generation or type of interaction, either. At least half of adults are interested in virtual interactions for personal or business meetings, telemedicine, shopping, virtual training for work or school or participation in a government meeting.
These opportunities underscore the need to prioritize accessibility. Part of this consideration is affordability: The greatest plurality of respondents in our survey (38%) agreed that providing more access to affordable metaverse technologies was the top factor in ensuring an inclusive and equitable experience.
After all, the digital divide remains a significant barrier, with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) devices still expensive and not widely in use. As we are bringing people into the new virtual world, we must strategize bypassing a price barrier that disproportionality affects communities of underrepresented identities.
Another component of accessibility is the range of options provided by metaverse platforms. Consider how alternative text and image captions will evolve for concerts, shopping and education in the metaverse, and the range of options for self-expression. More than a third (36%) of KPMG survey respondents cited avatar customization as one of the top factors for creating diverse, equitable and inclusive metaverse experiences. Representation in the metaverse should reflect our world, with countless options for self-expression, including but not limited to customizable avatars.
The metaverse reflects the real world, so it also reflects real-world issues when it comes to DEI principles. While the metaverse and VR might eliminate some barriers to in-person meetings, don’t take accessibility in technology for granted.
When KPMG designed its collaboration hub, we first tested different technologies with internal users. This experiment found that over 30% experienced motion sickness while using a headset, and this conclusion informed decisions around what technologies to purchase, how to build the collaboration hub and how to guide users effectively through the virtual world.
In this vein, Diego Mariscal, founder and CEO of 2Gether-International, points out that there is still work to do in technology development to mitigate a new set of accessibility challenges.
After participating in a panel on the metaverse taking place within the metaverse, Diego noted that, “as a disabled entrepreneur with cerebral palsy, being in the metaverse eliminated worries about whether or not outlets were available in the room to plug in my wheelchair, or whether or not the space and accommodations were wheelchair accessible.”
He continued, “while it was a relief to not worry about the constant physical barriers, I experienced new concerns. Putting on the required headset, maintaining visibility of the virtual screen, and navigating controllers through muscle spasticity were all new challenges born from metaverse technology.”
He added, “we need to look at both sides — that there might be many barriers eliminated, but also new ones to navigate.” He points toward organizations making headway against these barriers, like the XR Access Initiative and A11yVR.
Further, diverse stakeholders must also be in the room making these decisions. Diverse developer and deployer talent pipelines must be established and nurtured. As the metaverse begins to grow, so too must DEI-focused talent recruitment and retention alongside investment in diverse talent pipelines.
Diego noted: “’Nothing about us without us’ has long been a mantra of the disability rights movement. The strongest way to combat accessibility challenges posed by VR is to include disabled people in the process of building the metaverse and the technology enabling it.”
Expand the seats at your table
For the metaverse, as with all cutting-edge technologies, the name of the game is innovation.
Innovation and creative planning are two reasons to not limit seats at the table. For investments like these, it is critical to build an expansive and inclusive team. And if the expertise isn’t available in house, find partners who can keep you accountable to the world you are hoping to build.
We have the opportunity to embed DEI principles and create a culture of belonging and inclusion as the metaverse evolves and scales. How will your advertising — along with your community, education, and organization — embody your principles in the metaverse?
All our social communities will have a space in the metaverse, and we have the unique opportunity to instill DEI values in the infrastructure of this new virtual world. Leverage your multifaceted team and collaborate across stakeholders, experts, and subject matter experts to ensure that as the metaverse evolves, it is as inclusive as possible.
Anu Puvvada is KPMG U.S. studio leader and interim metaverse COE Leader.
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