First Metaverse Marathon Spotlights Virtual Humans Reflecting Real World Disabilities
Virtual human avatars with wheelchairs and prostheses to match their real-world user will complete the first metaverse marathon this week at the Degree deodorant sponsored Metathon. The deodorant company has partnered with Paralympian Blake Leeper as well as hip-hop star Fat Joe to organize the event on the metaverse platform Decentraland as a way of encouraging developers to make the interconnected digital worlds of the metaverse more accessible and inclusive to those with disabilities.
According to a Wunderman Thompson report highlighted by Degree, 60% of people feel that virtual worlds lack inclusivity and want more accessibility. The Metathon is for drawing attention to those issues, but the organizers plan to leverage the interest to push for new inclusive tools when designing an avatar, adding audio descriptions for those with impaired eyesight, and other upgrades. Decentraland and Degree built its avatar catalog for the event as one example of the updates they are advocating for. Participants can include prostheses, running blades, or a wheelchair to their avatar, allowing them to express who they are in the real world digitally. The meta-runner will travel 26.2 virtual miles of Decentraland’s Vegas City Sports Quarter, including wheelchair ramps and other accessible architecture.
“As a person with disabilities and a professional runner, I am so excited to take part in the Degree Metathon,” Leeper said. “Showing people in the virtual world who are running with blades and other prostheses is something that I think will inspire confidence in people with disabilities to get involved and feel welcome to join in on this experience, and will ultimately contribute to increased representation.”
Virtual being platforms for metaverse avatars are in high demand, with new brand partnerships and investment rounds a regular occurrence. For instance, Ready Player Me raised $13 million at the end of last year and is now working with Adidas on a personality-based virtual human avatar platform. And rivals are pulling in plenty of cash, too, such as Inworld’s recent $10 million, the $21.5 million raised by Neosapience, or Soul Machines’ enormous $70 million funding, not to mention the hyperrealistic virtual humans and creatures under development by video game makers like Krafton. Questions of accessibility and inclusivity don’t usually come up immediately, but Degree and its partners see it as an issue that should be addressed right now.
“Over the last several years, Degree has made great strides in progressing our mission of championing everyone to have the confidence to move more, and now we’re taking that same mission into the virtual world,” Degree global brand vice president Kathryn Swallow said.”We hope the Degree Metathon will spark conversation on why representation matters—in both the Metaverse and the physical world—and its power in challenging societal norms. We’re excited about our partnership with Decentraland and about the potential to influence the virtual world as it’s being built and more widely adopted by consumers.”