Virtual reality

Virtual reality

With head-mounted displays (VR goggles), virtual reality provides the user with a sense of immersion and being surrounded by a virtual environment. The stereoscopic image display within the goggles gives a sense of spaciousness and a perception of scale much more intense than with traditional flat displays. Additionally, thanks to the first-person perspective, the user experiences the world from the position of a particular person, which provides the so-called sense of embodiment. Many VR environments also enable interactivity – the user can affect the virtual world and receive feedback in real time through actions taken (including using controllers or gestures), which translates into educational value of this technology.

Given the aforementioned features of VR technology, it is currently the most engaging medium and provides a greater opportunity than any other to take another person’s point of view. Appropriately designed applications allow a given situation to be experienced from the perspective of another person – of a different age, skin colour, social or cultural group or with a specific disability. These types of simulations facilitate a better understanding of the position and problems of different people and, as a result, enhance empathy.

VR applications and 360-degree spherical videos simulating specific disabilities are very popular thanks to their applications related to overcoming stereotypes and building mutual understanding and support in diverse groups or relations, for example employer-employee, lecturer-student. This is confired by both industry practice and specialist research. Researchers indicate that building empathy using VR technology is more effective and has a longer lasting effect than traditional methods.

In recent years, VR productions showing the perspective of people suffering from autism, schizophrenia, dementia, vision problems, migraine and those in wheelchairs have been successfully implemented. Social issues such as homelessness, refugees, community life after disasters, and issues related to cross-cultural differences have also been addressed.

The second field of using VR technology is to increase accessibility to various types of applications by designing them with the needs of people with disabilities in mind. This is an emerging and niche market, as to date most mainstream deployments are aimed at the entertainment sector, where user groups with disabilities are rarely considered. Taking their needs into account in the design process has begun to result in applications that can be fully used by people with visual, hearing or wheelchair disabilities and a large proportion of people with other types of mobility impairments.

Proposed solution

A virtual reality mini-studio will be set up in a dedicated room, equipped with 4 high-end workstations containing applications to support building empathy towards people with disabilities and VR applications adapted for use by this group. Two stations (of higher quality) will be stationary due to technological specifications, while the others will be portable and available for use in other rooms. The studio will be suitable for both individual use by students and staff of the university, as well as for group meetings, classes and workshops. Additional devices to display a preview of the image seen by the person using the goggles (monitor, projector) will allow observers to be included in the process of using the application. A special infrastructure ensuring appropriate management of the necessary cabling will ensure the access and comfort of use also for people in wheelchairs.

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