I (meaning Natalie) spend time in the virtual word of Second Life doing a variety of things both serious and work related and just plain fun. Today I am attending and have the honor of being an introducer in the International Rights Disability Conference hosted in Second Life by Virtual Ability.
Virtual Ability is a great place designed to provide support and community for people with disabilities. Each year they host a conference designed to promote rights for people with disabilities and to encourage fuller participation of people with disabilities in their own community.
I have been providing very occasional and small consultative help to Virtual Ability almost since they started in Second Life. It has been astounding to me to see how this have taken off and grown from a tiny single plot in Second Life to an entire huge multi-sim island in Second Life with a large and vibrant community.
Entry into the virtual world can be a bit intimidating and since different people come into Second Life with different aims and desires, there can be difficulties while newbies are adjusting. Virtual Ability provides a gentler and much more supportive environment for newbies.
In Second Life we get to pick what we look like and here you can see me, right foreground in my “professional” av. I am sitting with a cowboy, a geeko and turtle and another human. I have all kinds of other avatars for less serious events.
The conference covered a wide range of topics.
We began with Caroline Pavis of Johnson and Johnson who talked about their HealthEVoices disability bloggers conference. Their next conference is in 2017 in Chicago and they hope to encourage interaction between various disability and health advocacy and support groups across a wide variety of people from those living with HIV to those with intellectual and emotional disabilities. She talked about the benefits of the conference and after we had a lively discussion about how Second Life, and other Virtual World media could be integrated into their setting.
Our second set of speakers were from South Africa. This is one of the nice things about a Second Life conference. You can have people come from all over the world and yet all feel together.Theresa Lorenzo and Siphokazi Sompeta of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, spoke about their research on ways to make disability-inclusive services available in rural areas of South Africa, Botswana and Malawi. She described problems like lack of local transportation and lack of practical skills for dealing with people with disabilities. For example, they taught taxi drivers how to better transport people with disabilities. Ms. Sompeta described being in Second Life as like being in a spiritual world, a lovely and apt metaphor.
I was introducer for the next session which was a panel of presenters from the Chronic Pain Anonymous group. styled after Alcoholics Anonymous but geared entirely to people who live with chronic pain due to many different health conditions, the group provides a supportive environment without advocating any specific treatment or protocols. Rather it helps people to live well and at peace with themselves even though they also live in chronic pain. By coincidence, I had attended a group session as a family member of someone living with chronic pain. So I got to experience the reality of the support available.
The next speaker for today was Dr. Margaret Nosek and her colleagues. They presented on “Women with mobility impairments in community weight loss programs: Exploring new venues in virtual worlds.” Obesity and being overweight is really a problem for people with mobility impairments. Over 50% of people with mobility impairments are obese. Yet exercise, the major tool for effective weight loss is not something easily available to those with limited mobility. The talk centered on things that can be done.
The final speaker was Maggie Sheets with the Disability Policy Consortium of Massachusetts. She explained the importance of including people with disability in policy making.
So we had the conference and there were many side conversations and instant messages as well as group chat going on during the conference so it was fun and stimulating and I felt really connected. I also didn’t have to fight airports, a strange bed with a room full of strange scents that make me wheeze, worrying about food when I have so many allergies and all the usual stresses of going to a conference. It was a great experience.
The conference continues tomorrow.