Saturday, October 30, 2010

Non-profits Using Second Life to Overcome Disabilities

In a previous post, I lamented the seeming lack of support in virtual worlds for those individuals dealing with disabilities. Despite the fact virtual worlds hold much promise for such users, limitations of the interface can be a real barrier to access.

Thanks to some reader feedback, and LordGregGreg's blog, I located more information and resources about this issue. In one of his posts, LordGregGreg wrote about his future plans to work with Virtual Ability, Inc., which, as their web site describes, "is a non-profit corporation based in Colorado, USA, [whose] mission it is to enable people with a wide range of disabilities by providing a supporting environment for them to enter and thrive in online virtual worlds like Second Life®."

As it turns out, Virtual Ability has been an active participant with the Snowstorm project to address access issues for Second Life users with disabilities, which I find to be very a exciting and promising development. Even more exciting to me personally as a military veteran, is the Amputee Virtual Environment Support Space (AVESS), which is a collaboration between Virtual Ability and the U.S. Army, as explained in this video:

This is an excellent example of the potential of virtual worlds to provide unique assistance to a very specific group of users, and also to demonstrate the versatility of virtual platforms to address a wide variety of  individuals and problems. Hats off to Virtual Ability and U.S. military for this important work.

I also wanted to check out their virtual presence, so I made a visit to Virtual Ability Island (see the SLurl here) this weekend and did a bit of exploring. Not only is their sim an excellent primer for their intended users, it's great for anyone who's new to Second Life. I ran into 3 people there during my brief stay who were all going through the island's tutorial.

It starts with basic navigation and features, before moving on to...



And, flying lessons.

The sim also offers new users the chance to try out some other features found around Second Life, like...

Balloon rides and...


Finally, I also visited their auditorium, which is reportedly sound isolated for privacy. 

Overall, I was very impressed both with Virtual Ability's mission in the real world and their presence in Second Life. The virtual world, and those who advocate for its users, need more examples like this one to share with the broader community of users who might benefit. 

The possibilities of the virtual realm are just barely being tapped at this point, and I'd like to hear from you about other such creative collaborations in Second Life or other virtual platforms.

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