Friday, February 1, 2013

(Dis)Ability in Second Life Research

by DrFran Babcock
This week I had the pleasure of attending a presentation at Virtual Ability, and you can see it as well. Details will be given at the end of this article. 
Most Second Life residents either know or have heard of Gentle Heron (pictured left), who runs Virtual Ability, a group of sims, an organization, and a philosophy (  ). As Gentle says: Virtual Ability is committed to accessibility. I will have more to say about Gentle at a future date, but I would like to tell you about the aforementioned presentation:
Ambrosia108 Azalee (pictured below) is an Masters student in Educational Technology at Concordia University, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In voice and text, she told the assembled audience in her interest in the meaning of Second Life for individuals who have physicial disabilities. She is conducting a qualitative research study, as her Master’s Thesis, in the lived experience of Second Life.
For those of you who are wondering what I am talking about a brief discussion of qualitative research might be necessary. Most of us are used to research that generates statistics, like: The percentage of women in Second Life who are actually men, or, What countries are most active in Second Life? Questions such as these are best answered by mathematics. However, to answer the question of what it’s like to be a person with a disability in a virtual world, math just won’t do. Ambrosia108 understands that, and that is why she wants to interview people about their experiences as an individual with a disability in Second Life. As Ambrosia108 says: “I think it's important to ask big questions and dig deeper to find out the benefits and limitations of a technology, and the impact it might have on social justice, inclusion, ability, education, and so much more. Yes, I've always been a bit of a rebel. ;-).” She understands clearly the benefits of essence over numbers when one is studying human beings.
Ambrosia108 explained how she started becoming interested in disability in Second Life. When she joined in 2009, one of the first people she met was someone who had been in SL for many years. They later revealed that they were a quadriplegic, a fact Ambrosia108 would never have known if she had not been told. “As I tried to imagine this person behind the computer screen, I began to wonder how people with real physical disabilities experience having a virtually able body, no sign of disability, and a whole virtual world to explore?”
There are two research questions that Ambrosia108 wants to explore:
1.     How do people with physical disabilities experience learning about themselves and others through interacting in virtual worlds
2.     What do people with physical disabilities learn about themselves and others through interacting in virtual worlds? 
Ambrosia108 is asking participants to be interviews three times over the course of one to two weeks. The interviews will focus on broad topics of history and background and move to questions about the meaning of Second Life for the interview√©.  The interviews can be in text or voice, according to the needs of the participants. If you are interested:
You are invited to participate and take this opportunity to share and voice your personal experiences within Second Life.  If you are interested in participating, please read through the consent form and provide the researcher with your Second Life information in the following link:    Consent form and information: If you have any questions or would like to contact the researcher, please contact Ambrosia108 Azalee in-world, or by email at:
Finally, the point of this whole endeavor, beyond earning a Master’s degree for Ambrosia108, would be to support her real agenda, which is to demonstrate the usefulness of and necessity for virtual worlds for individuals with disabilities. “Second Life is not a game!” she declared. I could not agree more.
The event will be repeated this Saturday, February 2nd, at 8:00 am, SLT at the Sojourner Auditorium:  Don’t miss it, especially if you are interested in participating.
DrFran Babcock

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