Friday, February 21, 2014

Virtual worlds helping people with disabilities

Disclaimer: I hate video games. No, don't try to talk me into reconsidering and yes, I mean ALL games. Once a year my wife busts out guitar hero and I complain and piss and moan until her impromptu jam session is over. I don't understand them and I have far too short of an attention span to sit for hours essentially twiddling my thumbs. That being said, and maybe I am the last person on earth to learn about this, but there is a virtual reality social "gaming" site called Second Life. Now, I use the term gaming loosely because it is more of a social media platform where people go hang out and chat and create. Still not my cup of tea, but cool for those who enjoy this type of stuff.

I also just learned about the awesome work and research people are doing with this platform with people who experience different levels of ability. In the virtual world many of these people may have been previously isolated because of their disability, they can now log on and hang out, attend support meetings, and many choose to swim/dance/travel in this virtual realm. While their physical world experience may be limited, their virtual world life is limitless.

Poking around on the internet for a bit produced Virtual Ability Inc. as a leader in this work. They have created a collaborative community where people with a wide range of disabilities can find and share information and resources. Many people have even found meaningful ways of providing themselves income in these virtual worlds by designing clothes or homes for other users. This is something to take note of because the Unemployment rate for people with disabilities, age 16 and over is double that of the general US population.

While not diminishing the work of these organizations and what they are offering this vulnerable population, we must also discuss access to these resources. As above mentioned, people with disabilities are nearly twice as likely as people without disabilities to have an annual household income of $15,000 or less.  This means that people with disabilities are also twice as likely to live below the poverty line.

With these type of statistics, these services are only going to be available to a limited population of those living with disabilities. In thinking about it that way, these virtual services are a privilege and are not addressing the larger issues people with disabilities are facing. I have to be honest, while researching this topic I was smacked in the face by my privilege once again. I rely too much on my belief that our society, our government will provide a safety net for our most vulnerable populations.

So what is it that we can do to better serve and support people with disabilities? How can we work to improve the lives of all disabled Americans, regardless of social class? If you have insight on this topic or work in this field, please comment below and drop me some education.

THIS WEEK'S SHOUT OUT: One of my derby wives (I'll explain that in a later post) helped me tremendously with this post. She is a vocational trainer for people who experience disability. She is a kind, gentle, hilarious, slightly twisted lover of all things food and fun and she teaches me something new everyday. Stormy Dawn, thank you for all your help and not just for the research for this post. Stormy also made her first roster and played in her first public bout last night! She has worked so hard and played honorably. Final score: 111-222 us.

Stormy tossin' all that weave.

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