A Whole New World for People with Disabilities

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August 11, 2015
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Virtual reality may be used as an escape for some users, but there is a new group who is stepping into the digital realm as an entrance into the everyday world – the disabled. The technology is beginning to catch on as a tool in medicine to treat phobias, reduce pain, and even help doctors perform surgeries. Now, users can take the experience a step further, literally and figuratively, and explore a world they may not be able to otherwise.

Disabled users are beginning to utilize virtual reality to help them explore the world that might be difficult or impossible in real life. You may be thinking that this is a great advancement in modern science, but at what cost does this come to the disabled user? Well, it’s within a feasible price point considering the good that it can do. For $10, a user can buy a cardboard headset, download a free iPhone app, slide a phone into said headset, and begin their exploration of virtual worlds from a wheelchair, bed, or couch.

Users describe the experience as nothing short of amazing. “It was such a trip because I went surfing last week but I was lying down on the board,” Danny Kurtzman said. Kurtzman, who has muscular dystrophy, surfs with the help of a nonprofit organization that gets people with paralysis engaged in action sports. “In the headset I could actually experience surfing standing up” he went on to say, an experience he had never had before.

The team behind the virtual reality experience created it by using proprietary software to film professional surfers in California and Mexico. The experience isn’t interactive, as it is only a cinematic experience, but it can give you sensation that you’re actually there.

The social benefit for virtual reality is also more beneficial than most would think. Honor Everywhere, has created a virtual reality experience for aging or terminally ill WWII veterans so that they can virtually visit war memorials halfway across the country.

For younger Americans, the University of Georgia and the Georgia Institute of Technology developed a program called BreakThru to help students with disabilities pursue STEM careers.

Through virtual reality, students solve complex problems in imagined worlds that may be applicable to their future careers. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the program has helped place 50 students in STEM careers. Though it has been around for decades, advancements in virtual reality are momentous. The ability to actually stand up from the wheelchair and explore an area is something many wish they could do, and now, with the power and technology of virtual reality, that is more possible than one may think.