The VirtuAbility Network: Developing Virtual Reality Communities and Overcoming Virtual Barriers

Angela Meyer1, Felicity Nelson1, Isabel Matias1

1House With No Steps, Belrose, NSW, Australia

Background
The emergence of new cultures and social spaces within virtual technology risks creating greater exclusion for people living with an intellectual disability, but they also offer the possibility of entirely new ways for people to engage, connect, and create meaningful social spaces that were not previously available.

Method
House with No Steps is partnering with the SocialNUI group at the University of Melbourne to develop a project that will build a social VR platform for and with people living with an intellectual disability. We will utilise a participatory design approach that will collaborate with users of the technology throughout the project. Participants will design a set of avatars (virtual self-representations) and then launch that avatar into facilitated virtual community gatherings will take place at regular intervals.

Results
We will seek to explore questions such as, How can embodiment in virtual communities foster inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities? What does it mean to be a person living with an intellectual disability in a virtual environment? What elements of our real-world abilities and personalities do we want to bring to the online world?

Implications
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the importance of giving people living with a disability access to technologies that allow them to participate fully in the culture of real virtuality. Through this project we hope to understand what role social VR communities might play in offering access, choice, self-determination, and valuable new social experiences for people living with an intellectual disability.


Biography:

Angela Meyer is an experienced design practitioner and leader, with a career dedicated to human centred design practice in a wide range of industries. As Strategic Innovation Lead at House with No Steps, Angela’s areas of interest include innovation methodology and inclusive and participatory design.

Felicity Nelson has expertise in learning and development, with a focus on developing leadership in teams and coaching leaders to navigate complexity and change. More recently Nelson has focused on developing organisational capability in innovation and strategic thinking, as part of her role as Strategic Innovation Lead at House with No Steps.

Isabel Matias is a design practitioner with expertise in design research, usability, art direction and concept generation. She has a background in digital marketing agencies where she used a customer¬-centred approach to guide design teams towards more meaningful outcomes.