Using VR to help kids with disabilities

We always hear the words “be grateful”, or “never take things for granted” or “you are so fortunate to live the way you do”. In fact, we hear these things so much that they start to seem redundant. But the fact is, all of this is true. Because there are so many kids in the world who would give anything to be able to talk, run, play, and do the things that we do without even thinking.

Every year in the U.S. alone, 1 in 33 babies are born with a disability. That’s around 120, 000 babies per year, in just one country. Some disabilities affect mental and emotional health while others tend to limit physical capabilities. But no matter what, each child with a disability will have something different about them, something that is life changing.

Almost every kid with a disability will have a limitation. This limitation could vary from not being able to speak to being paralysed on a certain part of the body to having developmental delays. With those limitations come an inability to perform a certain task on their own or just in general. Fortunately, there are so many technologies that can help with this. One of the most promising technologies which could significantly change life for kids with disabilities (both cognitive and mental) is virtual reality.

When you would first think of this, it may seem a little complicated. While there are many aspects to take into consideration, let’s first take a look at the basics. In terms of the actual use of the application, there would be four main parts. The social aspect, the emotional aspect, the physical aspect, and the mental aspect.

Social: The social aspect of this application would be geared towards those who don’t normally pick up on social cues, or who aren’t comfortable being in a social environment. It would involve an interactive, customised person who would take part in conversations with the child using the headset. The conversations would have built-in replies and with the power of VR there would be a different sensation for different replies. Depending on the conversation, some replies would be correct while others wouldn’t, and it would be up to the child to determine which one is correct or not.

Emotional: The emotional aspect would focus more on those who have difficulties controlling their emotions or even expressing their emotions. By introducing safe spaces such as a “calm room” this application can provide the place where kids feel safe, especially when they’re having difficulties controlling their emotions.

Physical: The physical aspect would be most helpful for those with physical limitations, those who don’t have much physical activity, or those who cannot be engaged in physical activity. It would start by introducing the different actions for movements that not all kids are able to perform, and then would slowly allow the sensation of the movement to be felt by the child using VR.

Mental: The mental aspect is designed for those who may have developmental delays, or any mental health illnesses. The purpose of this feature is to create a virtual reality “journal” which wouldn’t necessarily be just words, but would mainly include the 5 senses. There would also be a place to take out the negative emotions- a room that can have various looks and tools.

While these are just 4 aspects that have been listed, there are so many more possibilities to enhance these aspects. After establishing the basics, we could continue to improve each feature to make it 100% worth its while.

After hearing the description for this application, you may be wondering: why virtual reality? Why not an app on an iPad or phone, or even a robot? The answer is simple. Interactivity.

Several studies show that kids with disabilities prefer interactive activities because they can experience what many kids have the luxury of experiencing, and there are visible improvements in their mood, concentration, and more. It has a big benefit for the sensory/hands-on learners who learn best by experiencing things in real life. There is also an added touch of physical therapy, when moving the head to view different parts of the setting.

With every idea comes challenges. Some are easy to fix, others are ones that just have to be navigated. So what are some of the challenges for this application? Let’s see.

  • The sensory challenge: for many kids, sensory is an issue, and the feeling of certain things are not plausible. Since the social part of this application comes with many added sensory benefits, it may not be as engaging for some.
  • Different interests: each child is unique, with their own interests, hobbies, and personalities. For some, certain aspects (possibly the ones they could greatly benefit from) may not be as interesting, leading to disinterest in the entire concept. This, however, has a simple solution which is to allow for the different features to be completely customised

The idea of using virtual reality for kids with disabilities is one that has so much promise. By working together, every idea listed here could become a reality one day. This would not only benefit one or two kids, but every single kid who’s lives are impacted by a disability. The application could do wonders in the future, and it can start to become a reality today. All through the power of virtual reality.

I am a 12 year old who is interested in finding a cure for cancer and brain computer interfaces. I write about anything that I want the world to know about