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Criptech Metaverse Lab

, Gray Area Festival, San Francisco

Historically, disabled users and creators have been left out of design considerations for emerging technologies. The Criptech Metaverse Lab is an initiative by Gray Area, San Francisco’s cultural incubator, and Leonardo, a nonprofit enterprising think tank at the nexus of art, science, and technology aimed at increasing accessibility in immersive technology and the metaverse. 

VIVE Arts and VIVERSE (HTC) have partnered with Gray Area and Leonardo to commission immersive artworks by disabled creators as part of the lab. Artists Indira Allegra and Melissa Malzkuhn were commissioned to create two prototype artworks for VIVERSE, HTC's immersive platform that empowers users to design their own virtual spaces. The prototypes will premiere at the Gray Area Festival in San Francisco, October 19-22, 2023. 

Malzkuhn's project, The Deaf Club, reimagines the concept of deaf clubs, a vital part of Deaf culture and storytelling globally, within the digital realm. A living weaving that sings, Allegra's TEXERE: A Tapestry Is A Forest is among the first VR artworks exploring the collective memorialization of loss. 

The CripTech Metaverse Lab convened in February 2023 to address accessibility challenges in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and spatial audio by enabling disabled creators to actively shape the future of immersive technologies and prototype how, when imbued with intentional design, these technologies can open new pathways for connection and inclusion. Facilitated by disabled usability researchers Jennifer Justice and Frank Mondelli and access doula Claudia Alick, in addition to the project partners, this pioneering collaboration brought together disabled creatives to experience immersive artworks, engage in critical discussions, and create new speculative artworks. Results of the convenings will be shared through a white paper published in the Leonardo journal, an online research archive, and through programs at the 2023 Gray Area Festival. 

Images credits
VR still, The Deaf Club, Melissa Malzkuhn, 2023, courtesy of artist.
VR still, TEXERE: A Tapestry Is A Forest, Indira Allegra, 2023, courtesy of artist.  

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