In partnership with Virtual Ability Inc. (VAI) we’ll be developing the best practices and prototypes to support military amputees in a virtual environment. I wanted to share this both as a bit of shameless self-promotion, but also by way of thanks to VAI, the ideal partners for this project, and to put a call out to those who are interested in the topic or who might be able to share insights or experiences that will help us to best adapt and create a virtual environment for the military amputee.
The project is funded by the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) of the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) which awarded the contract through a bidding process, won through our operating company ADL. The project will be based on Linden Lab’s behind-the-firewall solution (which will be officially launched in open-beta this coming Wednesday).
Virtual world technology is a natural fit for this target audience and the Lab’s ‘firewall’ solution was a base requirement for a project where issues of security, patient confidentiality, and integration with other systems weren’t possible in Second Life.
Formal press release follows, or link to the wire release (with images) here.
Can Virtual Worlds Provide Support to Military Amputees?
Amputee Virtual Environment Support Space to Research and Establish Best Practices
November 2, 2009 – Virtual worlds can provide military amputees with an opportunity to enhance their overall quality of life, expedite their reintegration into society, and improve their physical and mental wellness. ADL Company Inc. (ADL) and Virtual Ability, Inc. (VAI) announced today the start of a project to establish best practices and protocols for the provision of on-line peer-to-peer support services to this community, with funding from the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) of the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC).
“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,” said Alice Krueger, President of Virtual Ability, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation. “This project will establish the best way to adopt this technology for the unique needs of the military amputee community.”
The Amputee Virtual Environment Support Space (AVESS) project will research the peer support needs of the military amputee community and establish protocols and prototypes for addressing those needs in a virtual environment. AVESS will be developed by ADL and VAI, who are partners in the project.
“We have successfully used virtual world technology in a number of areas, including as part of a long-standing project with the US Government (Joint Medical Executive Skills Institute) through which we provide leadership training to healthcare professionals in the Tri Services,” said Doug Thompson of ADL. “This project will further extend the use and understanding of virtual worlds and establish global best practices. VAI is an invaluable partner on this project: they have shown through example and experience how powerful virtual worlds can be in their ability to support people with all kinds of disabilities – physical, mental, emotional, and sensory.”
Finding a Sense of Community and Support
Recent US military casualty figures for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom indicate that between September 2001 and mid-January 2009 over a thousand amputation injuries occurred. Of the 935 amputations considered major, one in five wounded warriors lost more than one limb. While the rehabilitation goal is for the soldier to return to active duty, many reintegrate into their civilian communities. In either case, military amputations are often accompanied by additional wounds, depression, fear, phantom limb pain, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Spouses and family members often become the caregivers of military amputees after they are released from military hospitals and rehabilitation programs. Family support members have their own grieving process to go through related to the amputation and to the change to family life.
Peer support groups help recent amputees gain the experience and confidence and practice the skills necessary to proceed with their rehabilitation. Support groups can also assist family members and spouses with their caregiving issues and concerns.
“Individuals come into virtual environments as a way to connect with others who have disabilities,” said Krueger, whose group has developed an award-winning support environment in Second Life® for individuals with disabilities. “What they discover is that you don’t just find a community, you find a place where you can express yourself and feel like you have a shared space. It’s powerful. Virtual worlds offer an immediacy and a sense of presence that a Web site can’t offer. Amputees have been shown to respond positively to viewing themselves as an avatar in a three-dimensional environment.”
“Our mandate is to explore new technology and how it can support service personnel. This is an exciting project for TATRC because it will let us define what we see as a potentially effective way to provide another form of support to military amputees,” said Ashley Fisher, Program Manager at TATRC.
Linden Lab Provides Technology
The AVESS team selected a stand-alone virtual world solution provided by Linden Lab as the test platform for the research into best practices. Based on the same technology that runs the Second Life® virtual world, the stand-alone application allows the AVESS team to prototype a solution that is specifically tailored to the needs of military amputees and their families, and that has added features for security and user registration and management.
“We’ve been working with Linden Lab technology to create applications and environments for commercial, military and educational clients,” said Doug Thompson. “With a proven virtual world platform that is populated by hundreds of organizations and thousands of users, it was an ideal fit for this project.”
About ADL Company, Inc.
ADL Company, Inc. is a leading provider of distance education and virtual world environments focusing on health, leadership and patient support. ADL clients include the Joint Medical Executive Skills Institute, hospitals, HMOs, and industry. Remedy, an operating division of ADL owns and operates Metanomics, a weekly broadcast on the serious uses of virtual worlds filmed in Second Life® and broadcast to the Web.
About Virtual Ability, Inc.
Virtual Ability, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation based in Denver, Colorado, dedicated to enabling people with a wide range of disabilities by providing a supporting environment for them to enter and thrive in on-line virtual worlds like Second Life®.
For more information on Virtual Ability, Inc., including the benefits of virtual reality for people with disabilities, please see www.VirtualAbility.org.
About the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center
The Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) is the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command’s (USAMRMC) corporate or central laboratory for advanced technology research. Its diverse assortment of unique collaborative relationships with government, academia and industry comprise a workforce that focuses on world-class integrated research and development for the Department of Defense. TATRC’s research programs consist of seven portfolios and a new initiatives and basic science program for addressing the ever-changing world of medical requirements both on the battlefield and in hospitals of the future.