Daniel Lambert-Tait is an ordinary guy who enjoys gaming. The 34-year-old lives with his wife and three children in the Shetland Isles, a subarctic archipelago where Scotland meets Scandinavia. He works at a local school, does community outreach, and maintains a hobby as a graphics artist. Daniel’s life is unique, however, because he goes about his daily routine in silence. It’s not silence from headphones or isolation. Daniel has been deaf since birth so it’s a silence most of us will never be able to comprehend.
“I was born deaf,” says Lambert-Tait, “and living in the deaf world doesn’t mix with hearing people.”
He explains that it was difficult growing up because he only knew sign language and didn’t learn spoken language until many years later.
“When we gave birth to a hearing baby,” he and his wife, who is also deaf, began taking speech therapy classes because they had never learned to speak before that.
In fact, the first time Lambert-Tait, who goes by the gamer tag Dan3DIM, had mixed with hearing people was when he attended university. He enjoyed making friends with similar interests and became involved with Warhammer 40K, a miniature wargame from Games Workshop, as well as radio-controlled race cars and other hobbies.
“I was looking at drone racers,” he adds, “but it was my first time on FPV (first-person view) and it scared me to death.”
This is when virtual reality entered Lambert-Tait’s life.
“I decided to get an Oculus Rift to improve my fear of FPV,” he explains. “I was surprised how good it was and just got hooked on it.”
Although he’s still “scared of FPV drone racers” because he’s afraid he might cause an accident, virtual reality allows him the ability to see things from his own point of view in a safe environment. He can experience things in virtual reality that he wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in physical reality.
In addition to VR allowing him the freedom to explore, Lambert-Tait also states that he enjoys communicating with his friends in virtual reality instead of Skype.
“In my view, all webcams are too flat for British Sign Language (BSL),” he explains. “It’s more visual in 3D, not 2D.”
Since he lives in the country and all his friends live in the city, they use webcams to communicate, but now they can use virtual reality.
“I look forward to Facebook Horizon,” he states, referring to the social virtual reality hub coming to Oculus headsets in 2020. Users will be able to play games, create their own unique worlds, and interact with one another in an ever-expanding virtual world.
Lambert-Tait is also hopeful that Oculus and others will continue to develop “hand tracking can support 10-finger tracking instead of current hand-signs: point, fist, thumbs up, and flat palm. That’s not enough.”
“For years and years I have begged game developers to create hand signals like the military uses,” he adds, sharing the following visual aid. He says he can do these motions with the Oculus touch controllers, but would like to see the signals used in games.
Although we still have a long way to go in terms of accessibility in virtual reality, developers are definitely raising the bar as they develop increasingly accessible games.
“I love that mouse from Moss,” says Lambert-Tait.
In fact, Polyarc’s mouse actually uses sign language in the game. It’s a fantastic example of how something seemingly simple to most of us can make a huge difference for others.
“The cute mouse speaks our language,” states Lambert-Tait.
When he began playing VR, he was disappointed to find that all games don’t have subtitles, but in the true spirit of community, someone was there to lend a helping hand. He discovered that he enjoyed Ready At Dawn’s Lone Echo thanks to a subtitles program provided by NtsFranz, a friend he met in Echo VR.
Lambert-Tait also began playing Echo Arena, a zero-gravity sport game from Ready At Dawn. He enjoyed the multiplayer title so much that he actually joined a team in the VR Master League, a community-driven league that recently added Echo Arena to its lineup of competitive VR esports.
Although he can’t hear his teammates, the entire team is interested in learning to communicate in games without the mic. There are many things we take for granted and we might not question those until we’re challenged.
While we were doing this interview, for example, Lambert-Tait happened to mention that he wasn’t aware people could hear you grab them in Echo VR. I have quite a few hours in the game and I was certain we could feel a vibration on our touch controllers when someone grabbed us, which then makes it seem like we feel it on our bodies, but this isn’t the case. We hear the grab so I was simply perceiving it as a feeling that didn’t exist.
But what if someone can’t hear that?
We’ve had some interesting discussions and one of the great things about virtual reality is being able to learn about people and topics you might otherwise never have considered. Lambert-Tait is teaching his Fusion teammates some sign language and says he looks forward to learning new things from them that the AI bots haven’t taught him.
Ready At Dawn introduced AI bots to Echo VR in October and Lambert-Tait says he plays against them “too much.” The bots use hand gestures, emotes, and body language to express emotion.
In addition to enjoying the AI bots in Echo VR, he also enjoys the various emotes in the game that can depict facial expressions such as happiness, sadness, anger, etc. One recommendation he makes for developers is to use a system that allows people to change things like emojis on a “wheel” or something easily accessible so he can use those tools to express emotion rather than having to go to a computer to switch the emote.
Visual aids such as the fact that there’s a visible cue when people are shielding in Echo Arena are also helpful since he has to rely solely on what he sees or feels (through feedback on the touch controllers).
“Developer teams need awareness of people who are normal, not just perfect ability like hearing people who call themselves ‘normal.’”
As virtual reality is adopted by increasing numbers of consumers, Lambert-Tait would love to see subtitles in all VR games. He also says he would love to see Oculus develop the 10-finger tracking so everyone can develop a “new way to communicate without a microphone, just like that mouse.”