Saturday, November 3, 2012

National Health Blog Post Month: 30 Days; 30 Posts 03 – “Don’t Know but I would like to Know"

Yes, I am still a bit behind schedule but I wanted to share that… “I don’t know a lot about how people with disabilities are using virtual worlds but I would like to know.”

Nonprofit Commons Weekly Meeting
  Although I still have much to learn about the benefits of virtual worlds for people with disabilities, there is one thing that I have learned as a Second Life (SL) community member.  I know that one of the most active, hard-working, and productive residents is Gentle Heron, president and one of the co-founders of Virtual Ability, Inc. 

I believe that it was in 2009 when I met Gentle Heron at a weekly meeting of Nonprofit Commons in Second Life (NPSL), a virtual community of practice for nonprofits.  NPSL is managed by a community of volunteers under the leadership of TechSoup Global. Although NPSL community members are located worldwide, we meet and interact in real-time within a computer-generated 3-D environment known as a virtual world. While working at my computer in the east coast state of Maryland, it was in this “virtual world” where I met and interacted with the leadership of Virtual Ability, Inc. based in Colorado, USA. Technology is so amazing!
Virtual Ability, Inc. (Display by Zinnia)
  Over the years, Gentle Heron and other NPSL community members have graciously shared helpful information and valuable time as I learned about the diverse applications of 3-D virtual worlds. It has become quite evident that virtual worlds serve as alternate platforms for networking, information-sharing, training, and providing support regardless of physical location or physical abilities. 

In Second Life, Virtual Ability, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation is known as the “leading organization dealing with the support of people with real life disabilities”. Virtual Ability’s mission is to enable people with a wide range of disabilities by providing a supporting environment for them to enter and thrive in online virtual worlds. The Virtual Ability team has definitely established a supporting environment for real life people within a virtual world community.

Virtual Ability: In-World Tour
   During a recent visit to Virtual Ability’s HealthInfo Island, I walked the Path of Support which depicts the wide range of peer support groups in Second Life. The Path of Support provides information about the different health/disability peer support organizations and the various types of assistance available to disabled persons in Second Life. According to Gentle Heron, Virtual Ability has identified over 120 different peer support Second Life groups for various disabling conditions and chronic illnesses. Some support groups are big like the ones operated by American Cancer Society for survivors and for caregivers. Some groups are affiliated with real life national organizations such as the Autism Society of America and the AA weekly meeting groups. Others groups are small, mainly friendship support groups around a topic of common interest, and exist only in Second Life.  A few support groups in other languages than English have even identified.

Virtual Ability: Path of Support
Virtual Ability: Path of Support

As my learning continues, I applaud the entire Virtual Ability team. From the beginning, the three co-founders… Sodapop Heron, Superquiet Heron, and Gentle Heron focused on setting up a support community for real life people with real life disabilities. As many of our virtual world colleagues, the three visionaries never thought of themselves as “players in a game”. I share the same opinion of many virtual world users… “Virtual worlds such as Second Life are Not games”. 

 Virtual worlds are serious business; even life-changing business! That is why I would like to know abouthow people with disabilities are using 3-D virtual worlds.

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