Friday, April 30, 2010

US Army to Use Second Life to Aid Amputee Veterans

The US Army is making plans to purchase space in Second Life for the purpose of helping veteran amputees back into society. Named the Amputee Virtual Environment Support Space project, the virtual space is to be used by the wounded soldiers after they leave treatment centers.

“The avatar will be able to interact with other registered avatar beings – fellow amputees, caregivers, even friends and loved ones – in a virtual world that's unencumbered by the restrictions of time, distance or disability.” One program manager noted amputee soldiers once out of treatment faculties found themselves alone. The virtual world would help provide them with a group of peers for support.

“As AVESS develops, users also may be able to check in with their professional caregivers, asking questions, getting information updates, and even seeing online demonstrations of the best way to do a physical therapy exercise or adjust a prosthetic device.”

The contract was awarded in fall 2009 to ADL Co, "We tasked them with coming up with a roadmap, letting us know what was possible in developing a virtual world for amputee veterans, and letting us know what issues there are in terms of privacy, access, authenticating who was coming into the environment, all those types of issues," program manager Ashley Fisher explained.

The first phase involved a normal Second Life region, to see what they could do there. Their experiences also led to the conclusion they needed a secure area from unauthorized avatars, especially griefers whom would harass the wounded veterans.

"We wanted to avoid that, because we really did want the veterans to be able to go in and express the issues they are having with the people they know are going through the same thing," Fisher detailed, "And also, we needed it to be secure, because we want to try to bring families, and possibly even children, into the world, and we can't really do that on the regular Second Life platform." The area is being set up in a private, and secure, space in Second Life Enterprise , a region for private spaces marketed to corporations.

Fisher made comparisons to the movie “Avatar,” in which a former marine who lost his legs is able to go about in a new body through the use of a machine. She explained she saw “tremendous therapeutic value” in the amputees’ ability to “define their avatars as they choose, and to immerse themselves in those characteristics as they interact with other avatars.”

Fisher expected some to depict their amputations on their avatars with prosthetic limbs, though a number would do so only as they became more at ease with the virtual environment and the others in it. The “transformation” where they would come to “accept themselves and their new appearance” was hard enough when surrounded by their peers in a hospital, but harder when trying to fit back into society.

"For individuals with disabilities, virtual worlds are a powerful way to connect with others, to access peer support and to participate in activities that might not otherwise be possible," Fisher explained. "This project will establish the best way to adopt this technology for the unique needs of the military amputee community."

Source: The Official Website of the National Guard

Bixyl Shuftan

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