Virtual reality (VR) technology has been found to have a number of uses for people with a range of disabilities.
Sienna Fisher from Chichester has had a type of muscular dystrophy since birth and has never been able to walk unaided.
She has shared with our sister title, Access Mobility Professional, her discovery of VR and how can support people living with disabilities.
“I personally used a wheelchair my whole life,” she wrote, “but there are people who start using a wheelchair [later in life] and can find it difficult to get uses to.”
VR can help by simulating situations such as road-crossings or tight indoor spaces, Fisher wrote, giving them practice before they attempt the real thing.
She added that VR can also be used in the rehabilitation of wheelchair users who are learning to walk. She wrote: “A simulated walking experience can trigger a patient’s brain to adapt faster to new motoric skills.”
VR now has uses for the more-than 250 million people worldwide who suffer from some degree of impairment to their sight.
“For example,” Fisher said, “a London-based startup company developed a few years ago a VR headset that helps people with sight impairments restore their sight almost to normal levels.”
She mentioned a device called SightPlus, as well as Samsung’s Relumino, both of which give improved sight for users, benefiting mental health, ability to learn and overall quality of life.
Entertainmentand mental health
The entertainment benefits of VR can be a powerful too, wrote Fisher. “Disabled people deal with a lot of mental stress,” she explained.
The gaming aspect of VR can not only provide an exciting escape from real life for people with disabilities – just as it can for anyone else – it can also simulate activities they cannot usually take part in.
“I, for example, always love to hike, but I couldn’t because of my wheelchair,” said Fisher. “In a workshop in London, I tried a VR set that simulated walking on stones at the top of the mountain. It felt so real and I was happy I could experience hiking.”
The future of VR
Looking ahead, Fisher hopes that the availability of the technology will continue to grow, and that scientists will find more therapeutic uses for it.
“In years to come, we may even see doctors who prescribe VR headsets,” she wrote.