It has always thought we must feed the mind and the body in order to achieve an authentic experience of pleasure. But what if, a disabled person’s impairments prevent them having such experiences such partaking in dangerous pursuits, traveling around the globe, visiting art galleries and music concerts or enjoying a new hobby, is there an good enough alternative?
I came across virtual reality technology being used to bring the outside world into hospices and care homes for people living with terminal illnesses and dementia. Residents and tenants are experiencing all sorts of activities whilst sitting comfortably within their environment. With technology forging ahead, virtual reality can be used to recreate personalised experiences such as family holidays, celebrations, first loves and alike which can be relived many times and bring comfort of the past to disabled people with dementia or living with terminal medical conditions. Such experiences may not be recreated by personal assistants; for example how would a personal assistant recreate a birthday celebration of a deceased partner, friends and alike. However, virtual reality could include videos of such occasions that disabled people could experience. For other disabled people, virtual reality could be used to transport disabled people into a different world whilst forgetting about the pain or the border and frustration of spending long-periods of time in bed. It could provide the perfect opportunity for terminally ill patients to be in a peaceful and tranquil state of mind after the doctors have decided to withdraw treatment, such as switching off the life support machine. One of the obvious drawbacks is that virtual reality provides individuals with personalised experiences which may not be enjoyed by others. However, if the events are created around special people in the past, then those relationships could be rekindled in the virtual space. However, for a person living with dementia, it may cause greater confusion as they may not be able to make the distinction between relationships they are experiencing in the virtual reality and the real world. For instance, someone may think that their loved ones are still alive after being with them in the virtual world.
Virtual reality has been focused on giving the world to us via our sight and hearings and therefore may not provide a full authentic experience. We like to smell and touch things – it’s this reason why e-books and on-line music streaming has not replaced books and CDs and records. However, we do not always require those senses when engaging in experiences – when we visit a museum, a theatre and cinema we do not expect to touch the actors, props and objects. However, virtual reality may change this, with Fedred Sensory and Feelreal Masks that are worn alongside the virtual reality headset warn by the person. So one could visit a garden centre or a coffee making factory, walk down the breach in virtual reality using all one’s senses other than touch.
Furthermore, virtual reality could be the facility that allows disabled people to believe the world is their oyster. If disabled person is experiencing high levels of pain and is unable to physically engage in activities and experiences then what should they do, experience nothing or does providing experiences using virtual reality provide a good substitute. Pain aside, many activities such as rock climbing, scuba diving or hurricane chasing could be made available for disabled individuals wanting a risk free experience. Virtual reality could provide disabled people with these experiences without enduring the risks. However, the thrill of engaging in a risky pursuit is what disabled people like their non-disabled peers crave for and therefore virtual reality may not provide a reasonable substitute experience.
The danger is, virtual reality just like television and other forms of home entertainment, it might become the only form of activities that disabled people can participate in when there is insufficient levels of personal assistance to facilitate community engagement. Cash strapped local authorities may view virtual reality like other forms of tele-care as an answer to providing less personal assistance to support disabled people in activities.
Of course, there is one ingredient missing here is relationships with others – After all the joy of many experiences are the ones we share and have with other human beings – it’s for this reason why many of us advocate for inclusive education, its about shared human experiences that relationships are formed around and this continues throughout lives. Virtual reality may be presented as individual immersing themselves in experiences, without shared connections with other human beings. But, virtual reality can bring us together such as second life or the gaming community where humans relate to each other in cyber space.