Bringing Accessibility To The Disabled With Virtual Tours

Virtual tours have been hailed as a kind of Holy Grail for the disabled. For moments at a time, a disabled VR user can forget their disability and have experiences they may never have had the opportunity to do before. Virtual tours of faraway places, places that are difficult to travel to, can free the disabled user to experience these places as though they were actually there. However, virtual tours work at much closer range than this, and beyond entertainment, the experiences the technology offers can have very practical applications for disabled users.

Virtual Reality Training For The Disabled

A VR system, developed at the University of Haifa in Israel, for example, has demonstrated dramatic success in helping autistic children to learn how to cross the road. The simulation featured a number of different scenarios designed to address the many obstacles that one may encounter when crossing a road, giving the participants a broad understanding of the process before they tackle the task in real life. The researchers, Prof. Naomi Josman and Prof. Tamar Weiss from the university’s Department of Occupational Therapy, observed that a month-long program of VR training resulted in astonishingly improved results.

This kind of training for real-life situations also has strong potential for new wheelchair users, who can practice the challenges of manoeuvring a wheelchair in day-to-day life. A training program comprised of a variety of simulations (similar to the Israeli project above) may help new users become accustomed to their new spatial perceptions. This, in turn, may improve adjustment to becoming a wheelchair user, and thus mental health issues associated with becoming disabled.

The self-esteem and confidence that virtual reality promises, particularly to disabled young people, will be invaluable to their quality of life and the way they are able to interact with the world around them. This is something that we found out first hand when we recently worked with Prospects on a project to help acclimatise young people with special needs and disabilities to new environments.

Prospects Virtual Tours

Prospects has been working with young people in Hackney, London, for a number of years. The organisation exists to provide educational and careers advice and guidance to unemployed young people of all abilities, from around 13 to 25 years of age. They have long been concerned with the business of helping young people transition into further education and into the workplace, and now, with the help of EyeSpy360™ virtual tours, this transition can be facilitated in an entirely new way.

Often, young people with disabilities or special needs can feel overwhelmed and anxious about the prospect of encountering a new environment. It can, therefore, be extremely intimidating to consider a college course at a site that is unfamiliar to them, or a workplace they may interview at. This can be a dispiriting situation to be in, because these young people are keen to gain education and employment just like anybody else.

Some people with particular special needs, such as autism, like to plan the way they will move through their lives in detail, making sure they negotiate each step of the walk to a building with precision to avoid making a mistake, for example. The unknown can be a frightening thing.

Prospects has been exploring the ways in which they can use technology within the work they do for some time. They have looked into the ways that social media and smartphone apps, for example, can help with accessibility for the young unemployed. With virtual reality now rising in popularity, they may well have found their niche.

The team at Prospects conducted a pilot project with Hackney College, in which they used the EyeSpy360™ virtual tours kit to create walkthroughs of the SEN (Special Educational Needs) department at the college. The aim was to give young people a sense of what they could expect when visiting the college in real life and to put them at ease before the encounter.

You can experience the virtual tour of Hackney College SEN department here.

Prospects then went on to create virtual tours of Forest Road Youth Hub in Dalston, and The Edge Youth Hub in Woodbury Down. They plan to expand out their virtual tours in future, including these tours in their overall training services and expanding these tours to larger areas. They are also considering adding video presenting to their efforts, allowing participants to engage further with the experience.

The organisation has also been granted an extended contract to continue with the work they are doing for young people, including their virtual tours and other tech-focused approaches.

Virtual Tours of Property For The Disabled

Aside from the fantastic work that Prospects are doing with virtual tours to bring accessibility to the disabled, there are many more practical applications for the technology.

At EyeSpy360™, the principal reason people tend to use our services and equipment is for virtual tours of homes for sale and rent. And herein lies a hugely beneficial function for helping disabled individuals choose a home.

Visiting numerous properties when seeking a new home is time-consuming and draining for everybody, and even more so for those with disabilities and special needs.

The rise of virtual tours of property is a godsend to those with restricted mobility or other issues that make it difficult to view properties in person.

Any individual can don a VR headset and experience a prospective home without having to travel there until they are convinced that it is a property that they are interested in.

Virtual tours also help individuals to ascertain the accessibility of the property and to, therefore, decide whether it will meet their needs.

Virtual reality technology is also transforming the way that we relate to the unbuilt space. Architects and property developers are now able to use VR to plan and design buildings in a more time- and cost-efficient way.

When designing accessible buildings, virtual reality is beginning to play an instrumental role. It can be quickly ascertained early on in the design process how accessible the building will be. Potential hazards or obstacles can be overcome, thus optimising the ability of disabled users to negotiate their way around the space.

Virtual reality is making its mark throughout our society and culture. The technology is being used in everything from education and training, to healthcare, property, and entertainment. We are still in the early days of adoption, but we are already seeing the ways in which VR is changing the world for the better.

These examples of how virtual tours are enabling disabled people to take control of their lives and empower themselves are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many ways that charities and organisations are using VR to improve the lives of people of all abilities and backgrounds. We expect to see even more practical applications for the technology begin to emerge as adoption spreads and we welcome the positive impact that virtual tours, and virtual reality in general, are set to have on society in the coming years.