Virtual Reality Promises Real-World Results
An interdisciplinary team of KSU professors is researching how virtual reality technology can help improve health opportunities for people with developmental and cognitive impairments.
By Natalie Eusebio
According to the Center for Disease Control, people with disabilities are among the most sedentary population in the United States, and people with intellectual or developmental disorders are five times less likely to be physically active compared to their peers.
However, little research has been done to explore tools that might encourage more physical activity among this population, until now. An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Kent State is introducing virtual reality technology—computer-generated simulation of an interactive, three-dimensional environment—as a potential solution for young adults with developmental and cognitive impairments between the ages of 18 and 28 years old.
The idea came from Mary Ann Devine, PhD, a professor in the Recreation, Park, & Tourism Management Program in Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services, who is director for the Disability Studies and Community Inclusion minor/graduate certificate.
She is joined in her research by Gokarna Sharma, PhD, and Jong-Hoon Kim, PhD, both assistant professors in the Department of Computer Science, and three graduate students. The team received $15,000 from the Kent State Healthy Communities Research Initiative to aid their research.
Earlier research conducted by the team revealed that young adults with cognitive disabilities were comfortable using virtual reality equipment, such as hand-held controllers and other electronic equipment. Visiting a simulated environment could help them “frontload”—learn and prepare for a new environment before actually being there.
Visiting a simulated environment could help those with cognitive disabilities “frontload”—learn and prepare for a new environment before actually being there.
The team created an interactive virtual reality tour of Kent State’s Warren Student Recreation and Wellness Center, taking photographs of the center after hours that they used to replicate the real environment.
By taking the virtual tour, students with cognitive impairments can understand the center’s setup—for example, where locker rooms and water fountains are located—and become aware of possible challenges, such as signage that may be difficult for them to read, before they step inside the actual building. The team plans to create three different environments, including an outdoors environment, a built environment and a neighborhood environment, which could be accessed on a cell phone, so there are few limitations.
The goal is to help members of the Kent State community, but the project has global potential. “This is just a start,” Devine says. “We have ideas about how this could help older adults and people with mobility impairments.”
The findings will be shared with policy makers, service providers, family members, architects, city planners and the public so that people may better understand how built environments impact human behavior.