March 29, 2009

Second Life To Help Disabled Build Self Esteem

Using internet-based technology, experts at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston are changing the way women with disabilities interact with the world -- by having them experience it through a new one.

Research has shown that there are numerous barriers to health promotion intervention programs for women with disabilities including transportation limitations, health problems, and problems finding personal assistance services and child care. Researchers can now break through these barriers by making intervention programs available in the virtual world. Through a grant from the United States Department of Education, BCM's Center for Research on Women with Disabilities will develop an intervention program in Second Life® that focuses on self-esteem, a critical element in health and wellness.
Interact through avatars

Second Life® is a 3-D multi-user virtual environment on the internet that allows its "residents" to interact with one another through avatars. The avatar, the user's representation of herself, can be as similar or as different from her real self as she wishes, meaning she does not have to be disabled in Second Life®.

"Second Life® allows women with disabilities to experience virtual life as an able bodied person," said Dr. Margaret Nosek, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at BCM. "They can be who they want to be in the virtual world rather than living by the standards set by others," said Nosek.

Although most internet-based self-study programs may be effective in eliminating some of the barriers to participation that many women with disabilities face, they do not allow for social interaction, which is important for building self-esteem.
Practice skills

"Second Life® allows them to interact with other women while learning and practicing new self-esteem building skills in the virtual world," she said.

These new skills are then applied to real life situations, with women developing goals and action plans that they implement in the real world.

The program, which will be available in Second Life® in late 2009, will also link to the Garden of Wellness, a 2-D site developed by the BCM researchers that gives women with disabilities other health and wellness tips.

Dipali Pathak, Baylor College of Medicine


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