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What is VR from the Virtual Reality Society – https://www.vrs.org.uk:

“Virtual reality is the term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within this environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.”

VR is very valuable for people with a wide range of disabilities. Providing an immersive gaming experience is just the beginning. These innovative organizations are changing the world and the lives of people with disabilities through their products and research. 

It can provide computer access for people with limited hand and arm use. One example is the startup Eyeflite. Eyeflite is using a VR headset, Oculus Go. They are developing software that allows people with difficulty typing or activating a touch screen to access a computer with their eyes. The use of VR and specifically the Oculus Go headset allows this technology to be significantly more affordable than any previous solutions. 

VR technology can take people with mobility difficulties to places they can’t get to on their own. For example, The Kremer Museum is the first all virtual reality museum. The 74 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings can only be viewed through a VR headset. The paintings remain hanging in a private gallery in The Netherlands but the exhibit is able to be viewed around the world through VR headsets. In the past, someone who was unable to travel due to a mobility limitation, cost or time, would be unable to visit museums around the world. Now they are open to all through VR. 

Virtual reality technology can provide new experiences for people with autism. Using virtual reality, the AIMTech Centre in Hong Kong has developed a training program for children with autism. The program teaches emotional and social skills using VR technology. This eliminates the need for travel to a single location opening up the therapy to many more children and families and decreasing the cost of therapy.

VR has tremendous potential for opening up opportunities for social practice, therapy  and new experiences for people in mental health treatment. VR can provide realistic role playing scenarios helping people develop coping strategies for addictions such as alcoholism and drug addiction as well as social anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. Limbix, a California startup, is using VR for healthcare initially concentrating on mental health. 

There is incredible possibility for VR to allow improved visual experiences. Samsung has developed Relumino glasses using the Gear VR system. These VR glasses allow people with low vision to see more of their world. The glasses make blurry images more clear, reduce glare caused by particular colors, change contrast and correct for central vision loss or tunnel vision. 

Finally, VR can provide a vehicle for empathy – Filmmaker Chris Milk created the film Clouds Over Sidra to allows others to feel what it is like to live in a Syrian refugee camp.  A team of researchers at the University of Malta created a VR app to help teachers understand what it is like to have autism. This allows them to understand their students better. 

Virtual reality technology is in its infancy. This technology has tremendous implications for leveling the playing field for people with disabilities. It also will allow all of us to travel the world and have experiences previously inaccessible. It’s is exciting to think about the possibilities for this technology. 

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