Posts Tagged ‘VAI’

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Class 7: Online Communities and Relationships

November 14, 2019

Gentle Heron and the Virtual Ability Island community hosted our class this week.

Visiting an active community in Second Life is a privilege and always an interesting and informative experience. Gentle Heron, the founder of Virtual Ability Island, hosted us along with residents James Heartsong, Sullen Heartsong, Dorie Bernstein and Eme Capalini.

Gentle told us of the founding of the community and the necessity for such an organisation. She started by explaining that they usually communicate with voice and text because there are deaf and blind community members. Gentle was an educational researcher before retiring due to multiple sclerosis. Virtual Ability (VAI) is an international cross-disability peer support community of over 1,000 members. People in the community come from six continents and may have a physical, mental, emotional, development or sensory disability, with many having multiple disabilities. Because it is sometimes important to communicate with someone who understands and ‘gets’ your concerns, your language and point of view, the community offers peer-to-peer support and education. However, the community does not live in isolation – it is not a virtual ‘leper colony’ – and about a quarter of the members do not (yet) have disabilities. They are referred to as TABs, temporarily able bodied. They may be a parent, spouse, child or friend of a person with a disability; a professional or non-professional caregiver; an academic researcher; medical professional; or an educator. The community has been in SL for over 11 years and won the first Linden Prize in 2009 for a project that has ‘a tangible impact on the real world’. It is also one of the original Community Gateways into SL authorised by Linden Lab. So, it is well recognised beyond its own community.

VAI is supported in virtual worlds by a US nonprofit corporation, Virtual Ability Inc, to assist people with all kinds of disabilities enter and thrive in virtual worlds like SL. Virtual Ability offers educational and entertainment activities daily and encourages member to explore all that SL has to offer. Some of the most popular activities are campfire chats and dances. Healthinfo Island focuses not on disability and impairment but on health and wellness. There are educational exhibits and displays, a pavilion listing research opportunities and the Path of Support which gives information about the more than 120 disability support communities that have been identified in SL so far. On Cape Able there is an art gallery and Cape Serenity hosts a library. Both gallery and library offers only works created by persons with disabilities.

Although a community, VAI is not based on geographical proximity nor cultural homogeneity. It embraces diversity and recognised that people with disabilities form the largest minority group in the world, while being the most varied. This requires a group value of respect and accommodation. Members form both close and informal relationships and the group promotes mutual support. Potential new members are asked what the community can do for them and what they can do for the community. The emphasis in on Ability rather than DISabilty.

Gentle referred to the nine elements and three principles of digital citizenship that are outlined in the reading material for this week’s class, suggesting that they apply to virtual community membership. VAI involves members in various projects and encourages them to stretch their capabilities. The community also enforces standards of virtual world etiquette while helping members understand their rights and live up to their responsibilities. This is not always simple. Sometimes the needs of community members conflict. For instance, some cannot type because they are paralysed, others cannot read due to dyslexia or blindness, and others are deaf and cannot hear. Therefore, communication often requires an intermediary, either technological or human.

The community educates beyond itself through two annual conferences. The beginning of the month saw the 8th Annual International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference.

Gentle asked the other members of VAI to introduce themselves and students to type their questions into local chat.

Suellen Heartsong helps the estate managers and supports conferences and events by voicing for those who need that help. She is also editor of the VAI Facebook page She is able to do things in SL like dancing and being a DJ that she could not do in RL and also met her now RL husband in SL.

James Heartsong is a US Army Veteran whose disabilities include MS and PTSD (from both military and civilian tragedies). He found SL after reading an article in an MS magazine suggesting that good peer support was available but was completely lost in the large world that is SL. Luckily, he met Gentle and was welcomed into the community. He also met his wife in SL and brought her to VAI. They eventually met in RL and have now been together almost seven years.

Dorie Bernstein’s avatar is a black wolf. She joined SL over 14 years ago looking for an early community of autistic individuals but never made it to their island instead finding a home at Dreams, a community started by The Sojourner. She was a speech/language pathologist who discovered that learning to use SL helped with her recovery from strokes. She was also raising an autistic son. Dorie now runs Dreams and is getting more involved with VAI. This gives her a safe place to socialise while creating and learning new skills. Her current leadership position pushes her outside her comfort zone on a near-daily basis but is as rewarding as it is challenging.

Eme Capalini has been in SL for 12 years and works for VAI creating virtual environments for the community and and for its real life clients. She finds virtual worlds a great way to connect with others socially and to engage in research.

The questions from the class came in rapidly! LouHug wondered about how safe it felt meeting somebody from SL in RL. Suellen responded that as a retired 911 supervisor she was able to do a good background check on James in advance. It is important to be as careful and responsible as possible when moving from SL to RL. Dorie added that her mom and stepdad met in a comquserve chartroom in 1995!

John told of a former participant in the module who met their partner during the final presentation of the group project and they have since become engaged. MsBenediction noted that she might not share that story with her boyfriend.

Kebab asked about finding suitable members for the community. Gentle replied that people now find VAI rather than the other way around. It is a closed group so people must apply to join. The community needs to be wary of devotees who prey on PWDs (People With Disabilities) or those who pretend to have a disability and want to role-play. So newcomers are invited to visit for a few months so that their suitability can be tested.

ChataMari wondered why VAI chose SL as a platform to connect with others. Gentle said as the largest and most active SL was the best choice.

John reluctantly drew the discussion to a close as James said he was just getting warmed up. Thanking Gentle and friends for their generosity and time he noted that students had been welcomed at VAI for many years now and TU Dublin is very appreciative of the continuing engagement.

John offered an invitation to everyone from the community to join next week’s class when guest speaker Glenn Loughran (aka Joseph Jacotot) will lead what promises to be a very interesting discussion on the 1973 short-story The One’s Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K Le Guin.

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Class 7: Online Communities and Relationships

March 28, 2019

Attendance was disappointing this week but we continued with our visit to Virtual Ability Island (VAI) nevertheless. We all teleported to the Cabana Classrooms where Gentle Heron, founder of the Virtual Ability community, introduced her colleagues Eme Capalini, Stepinwolf Darkstone and Carla Broek. Eme is Vice President of Development for Virtual Ability. SL gives her a creative work outlet and a place to make friends. She says that logging in is like coming home. Stepin has been in SL since 2007 and joined the group that eventually became Virtual Ability where he now manages a virtual apartment complex on a voluntary basis. Carla is from Belgium and just celebrated her 12th rez day (as SL birthdays are known). She was drawn to SL by the opportunity to explore creative work like photography and community. She has created her own world inspired by the English countryside where people can relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. Gentle explained that she had been an educational researcher before being medically retired by multiple sclerosis.

Student Rebekah Majesty with Eme Capalini, Gentle Heron, Stepinwolf Darkstone and Carla Broek at Virtual Ability.

Speaking and using text (as is the custom in VAI to support those who are deaf) she describes VAI as an international cross-disability peer support community with over 1,000 members. ‘Cross-disability’ means that members who have disabilities may have a physical, a mental or emotional or developmental disability, or a sensory disability. Many have multiple disabilities. The community offers peer-to-peer understanding, support and education because sometimes it is important to communicate with people who are most likely to understand the issues, concerns and point of view. But the community is not exclusively disabled. About one-quarter of the members do not (yet!) have disabilities. They are known as TABs, Temporarily Able Bodied. They may be a parent, spouse, child or friend of a person with a disability; a professional or non-professional caregiver; an academic researcher; medical professional or an educator. The community has been in Second Life for over 11 years – and won the first Linden Prize in 2009 for a project that had a tangible impact on the real world. It is also one of the original Community Gateways into SL, authorised by Linden Lab, so is recognised well beyond its own community.

VAI is supported by Virtual Ability Inc, a US nonprofit corporation. The community assists people with all kinds of of disabilities to enter and thrive in virtual worlds like SL. It also offers various education and entertainment activities daily, encouraging members to explore all that virtual worlds have available. On this island the community provides educational exhibits and displays, health information, information on research opportunities and details of over 120 disability peer support communities identified in SL so far. The community also hosts the Cape Able Art Gallery and Cape Serenity Library.

The population with disabilities is the largest minority in the world and is the most varied. VAI members are neither geographically proximate nor culturally similar. In fact they embrace diversity. This requires a group value of respect and accommodation. The other important value is an emphasis on Ability and not DISability.

The students joined the discussion with some interesting questions. Hummish opened by asking about protecting oneself from cyber bullying, online theft and so on. Gentle replied that there is little help from SL itself but the community provides help as it can by banning griefers. Carla told us that there is a reporting tool provided by Linden Lab but it is not a direct support. John told of the retired Miami Dade police officer who headed up security in Virtual Dublin and kept the community safe and peaceful.

Coldteosies asked about anonymity and whether virtual friends met IRL. Gentle said that people may retain as much anonymity as they wish. For instance she had met all three colleagues IRL and they were exactly the same as the people she knew from SL! Stepin added that he was glad to find that Gentle was very much Gentle IRL. John added that he had many many friends in SL, some of whom he eventually met IRL and some not.

Aestheticant asked if people who are differently abled need extra digital protections, within the broader sense of digital citizenship. Gentle explained that while VAI did not have a constitution it has an informal set of principles that are enforced, along with the SL Terms of Service. Stepin added that on Cape Heron they have a covenant and a Rental Agreement which spell out a lot of expectations.

This led on to some interesting observations about how we might identify with our avatars (which also emerged during Class 6 last week) and how that can affect behaviour. Some of us have avatars that look like ourselves IRL but Rebakah said hers doesn’t look anything like her. Gentle suggested that the sense of embodiment takes a while to develop and explained the concept of mirror neurons – the same parts of your brain fire when you see an avatar doing something as if you were doing with your physical body. We also learned that some people on the autism spectrum find SL a comfortable place to meet others because they can retain control of their interactions. Some of them don’t use human avatars but use, furry animals, fruit, or even a simple metal sphere.

Eme shared some links to VAI’s projects:

Gentle offered explanatory notecards to us, giving more details about VAI and the community and invited everyone to visit again anytime we wished. John thanked Gentle, Eme, Stepin and Carla for hosting us and being so generous with their time, knowledge and experience.

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Digital Utopia: the show

May 17, 2017
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The class photo, with everyone in their finery!

The joint show between DIT students and artists from Virtual Ability Island was a great success. There was so much work exhibited that it burst outside the gallery walls to the surrounding spaces. Turnout for the opening was also great with many friends from VAI coming along to see the work and party afterwards.

As part of their final assessment for the module the DIT student groups spoke about their collaborative artworks, introducing them to the assembled guests with confidence.

John and Glenn thanked you all for your enthusiastic engagement and hard work over the course of the semester. We also thanked Gentle Heron and everyone at Virtual Ability Island for their support.

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Students presenting their work.

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DIT individual student work is on show also. The exhibition continues throughout May.

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The evening ended with a party and dancing.

 

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Digital Utopia!

May 16, 2017
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Join us in Second Life (at 8.oo pm Irish Time) for the opening of this semester’s presentation of projects.

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Cape Able Gallery.

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Class 6: Discussion

March 15, 2017

Following on from last week the group discussed the visit to Virtual Ability Island. It seems that this experience had a deeply affective impact on most of the group and for whom the second life environment has taken on a whole new meaning. There was a lot of discussion about the benefits of the virtual world for individuals with disabilities, how the community has created a social space that supports engagement with others, conversations, showing art, providing information and to move about freely. Whilst many in the group felt that Virtual Ability Island was like a utopia for the community that engage with it, it was also suggested that it could be seen as sad that the participants needed to create an alternative social life due to the limitations in real life. Another way to think about this issue might be that instead of feeling sorry for themselves or complaining about their limitations or lack of access the community has been affirmative and residents get on with their lives creatively and constructively in SL as opposed to accepting limitations. In many ways, this might be one of the most therapeutic aspects of Virtual Ability Island, that it is an active creative space, a space of human subjectivity and agency against the odds.

Within this discussion, the group touched briefly on the possibility that the aesthetic dimension of SL might also have a complex sensorial value for the Virtual Ability community, and it was on the back of this conversation that the group proposed a brief exhibition of their Digital Skies work in the Gallery in Virtual Ability Island. John has agreed to discuss this possibility with Gentle Heron and it would be a great event to share with that community. Burnsygirl, freddymcfreddy and whatyamacallit volunteered to liaise with the community and see if artists from Virtual Ability would like to take part also.

Finally, the group briefly discussed Richard Noble’s Lecture: The Politics of Utopia. Some of the key discussion points revolved around the tensions in utopia artistic practices between autonomy and instrumentalisation, which provoked questions concerning the use of art as a social-political form and the function of art and aesthetics as political in and of itself.

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Class 5: Virtual Ability Island

February 27, 2015

We had a brief discussion of how to establish community in the virtual realm. There are many approaches, and we listed a few ways to begin: Facebook, blog (as you are doing), Twitter (with appropriate hashtags) and follow others, and LinkedIn. But it takes time and effort, as we are learning in this module.

Then we wanted to make sure we had time to learn about Virtual Ability Island (VAI), so we took a field trip. Students can return to VAI and explore some of the other areas by using the landmarks on the notecard: ‘Landmarks for Virtual Ability,’ and if you did not get one, contact Dudley Dreamscape for one.

Gentle Heron and her friends greeted us. Gentle gave us a brief overview of the history and activities of VAI in both voice and text. They communicate in varied modes so that everyone, even those who are not able to see or hear or read or comprehend English can participate in ‘real time.’

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Welcome to Virtual Ability Island.

An overview of VAI from Gentle Heron:

(1) Who is the Virtual Ability community?

We are a cross-disability peer support community of nearly 1,000 members from 6 continents. That means our members who have disabilities may have a physical disability, a mental or emotional or developmental disability, or a sensory disability (deafness or blindness). About ¼ of our members do not (yet!) have disabilities. They may be a parent, spouse, child, or friend of a person with a disability; caregiver; researcher; medical professional; or an educator.

Our community has been in Second Life for over 7 years, and we won the first Linden Prize for a project that has “a tangible impact on the real world.”

We are supported by an RL nonprofit, Virtual Ability, Inc. Our community assists people with all kinds of disabilities to enter and thrive in virtual worlds like Second Life. As a community, we offer our members a variety of educational and entertainment activities daily, but also encourage members to explore all the incredible things to do and places to explore within Second Life.

(2) Why are we considered a community?

Some definitions of ‘community’ include a geographic proximity, and obviously since we are on every continent except Antarctica, we don’t embody that aspect. Nor do we have cultural similarity. In fact, we embrace diversity! The population of persons with disabilities is the largest minority, and the most varied.

However other aspects of community we do certainly exhibit:

  • Both close and informal relationships
  • Mutual support among members
  • Common values and beliefs (in our case about emphasis on Ability, not DISability)
  • Organized interactions and activities
  • A strong sense of belonging to the community

On Healthinfo Island, we are focusing not on disabilities and impairments, but rather on health and wellness. You will find landmarks to exhibits, displays, a pavilion listing research opportunities, and the Path of Support. The Path of Support lists information about the more than 120 peer support communities we have identified so far in Second Life for disabling conditions and chronic health issues.

Our community has 2 residential islands, with private properties around the edges, but public land in the central area. On Cape Able, there is an art gallery on the public land; on Cape Serenity, there is a library. In both the art gallery and the library, we offer only works that are created by persons with disabilities. That goes along with our emphasis on the abilities of people with disabilities.

You can learn more about the VAI community at their website: www.virtualability.org

Then we had a lively Q&A session.

The Q&A session covered a lot. Only a few are summarized below. Answers were provided by Gentle Heron and some of the members of the VAI community: Ruby Vandyke, Winter Wardhani, Stepin, ÎsaЪeĻ, Lukey Woodget, James Heartsong, Suellen Heartsong , levi Ewing, oɹɐubǝ dןɐuǝɹ, and Vandala.

QUESTION: How did the community begin?

  • A: We wanted to participate in a community but were too disabled to do so, and we came to a virtual world so we could socialize.

QUESTION: how do you get people from RL into this community in SL? How do you get the word out?

  • A: I found this community by seeing one of their Events listed in the Events search
  • We often invite people in other online types of communities, like chat rooms for people with specific disabilities.
  • I found an article in MS Magazine, mentioning support in SL. I came here, was lost for a bit, but then was guided here by a kind person who knew of VAI.
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Overview of the island.

QUESTION: Are people more accepting in SL than RL?

  • A: yes, I find that they are
  • not always people are accepting as in real life that is also the case:)
  • that kind of depends on the disability that is being responded to. Some people are very rude to people with disabilities that make them type slowly or if they type in ASL grammar (which makes them sound nonintelligent).
  • I find that SL is sort of a ‘great equalizer’. Disabilities are not as obvious here, so we feel more confident in our interactions with other.

QUESTION: what benefits have you and the members found from joining this group

  • A: personally for myself I have open up more about my disability with Virtual Ability which actually they have helped me deal with it as well much more in real life
  • We have done several research projects on benefits to people with disabilities of being in a virtual world. It offers several! including improved socialization and self esteem.
  • understanding your not on your own and understanding about the outlook and thinking of other disabled people

QUESTION: Does the improved self-esteem translate to RL?

  • A: yes, being at SL has made me more confident in RL, such as doing public speaking, being able to strike up a conversation with people

One last benefit to SL. I get to meet folks from around the world, without ever leaving my desk. 🙂

  • world wide friends
  • I got to meet so many people from so many place that I wouldn’t have otherwise
  • me too, being retired helps..but would never be able to physically travel to other countries

We thank the VAI folks for participating and to Suellen for voicing.

NEXT WEEK:

Groups will work together and the instructors will visit each group to get an up date on your progress and provide some help.

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