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Immersive Accessibility

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ImAc (Immersive Accessibility)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2020-03-31

Immersive technology could be considered both a burden and a great opportunity for accessibility. Immersive environments (such as virtual reality and omnidirectional video) are often assumed to be of little or no interest for people with disabilities. This position reveals a lack of knowledge of the Human Rights obligations (CRPD) ratified by all EU countries, as well as overlooking the versatility of access service and the resourcefulness and creativity of end-users. Immersive environments exist and they should be accessible for all. During ImAc some test cases will be deployed, showing the available accessibility possibilities and offering real life solutions.

During many previously EU funded projects, accessibility services have been tested to adapt to new technologies such as the switch from analogue to digital broadcast (DTV4ALL) and the new connected media ecosystem (HBB4ALL). The successful deployment of accessibility services by national broadcasters has also proven that is is possible for a common shift in attitudes in the importance of accessibility services. ImAc is seeking the same success story within the new immersive environment adding the expertise from across the ImAc partners in order to provide the tools to enhance immersive video experiences with a full layer of accessibility. To do so, the end-user is placed at the centre of the project, following an user-centric design process, thus integrating the voice of the audience with accessibility needs, the broadcasters that need to distribute such contents and content producers.

ImAc addresses 5 specific objectives:

Objective 1: Create accessible and fully personalised services for all citizens

Objective 2: Deliver novel resources for the broadcasting industry to provide adapted content ensuring accessibility in immersive environments

Objective 3: Demonstrate the tools and platform in open pilots

Objective 4: Work towards standardisation of accessibility data in an immersive content environment

Objective 5: Maximize impact on society delivering real and useful solutions
ImAc started in October 2018 and remained active during 30 months, until March 2020. During this period the ImaC consortium iteratively (co- and re-)designed and produced the ImAc platform, an end to end system for the production, distribution and consumption of accessible VR360 contents. It consists of a series of editing tools for the handling of subtitles, audio description and sign language accessibility content enrichment, a packager that encapsulates metadata content descriptors, reencodes the content and packetizes it to be served through the internet adaptively, and a VR360 player, fully customizable, and open source, which understands the metadata generated and presents access contents using different strategies.

During the whole process, ImAc followed a user centered apprroach and during the different iterations carried out, more than 1000 users have participated in requirements and evaluation activities. Around 250 users, professionals or consumers, provided direct subjective feedback about the tools and the viewing experience, while data from +850 users and +1000 sessions were gathered through open pilot activities by the end of the project. The resulting data has been analysed to understand the consumption patterns of the audience in a real environment.

In terms of dissemination and communication, the work performed in ImAc is outstanding. ImAc has produced 34 scientific articles, 30 of them during the second period, it has been present in a vast number of conferences and demonstrated its results in relevant forums. In terms of standarization ISO/IEC/ITU has accepted to open a SG on Immersive Environments in the series “Accessibility Interaction” JTC1 SG35 in the family 20071-30 Immersive Environments with very relevant presence of ImAc partners. Last but not least, in terms of exploitation, 4 specific collaboration actions have been launched towards the exploitation of ImAc results: during the last month of the project 2 regional broadcasters have agreed to integrate and test ImAc tools, while 2 research projects will use ImAc open source tools in their activities. In addition to that, the ImAC partner RBB has launched a set of 10 new 360 videos as part of their strategy for Covid situation, and the ImAc platform will be used to offer such contents with a layer of accessibility.
ImAc has generated a considerable impact and has situated Europe and the consortium members in a leading position with regards to the offering of access services in immersive environments. A comparison made with 20 of the most well-known VR360 video players have shown how beyond the status of the market ImAc is. This generates a twofold situation in which in one side probably the project results are still far from being applied since a considerable effort in terms of standardization is still needed for a full adoption of ImAc proposals (e.g. the presentation methods of access services) but, on the other side, ImAc results can be easily adopted and used as a ground in which future services can be built. In this last direction goes the liaison with two starting H2020 projects, and the agreement with 2 (soon-to-be 3) broadcasters that will adopt the ImAc platform for their current 360 contents shows. This shows already the level of maturity achieved in the project results, but is still obviously far from a full adoption of ImAc proposals for access services in immersive environments. In any case, the offering made from the project opening the source code of distribution and display components may pave the way to an accelerated adoption of ImAc results by the corresponding stakeholders.
Player menu with configuration options per access service
General architecture diagram
Content Manager for Access service tasks
Production tool for subtitles
ImAc Portal provides access to contents generated for testing purposes
Production tool for sign language