Vision Australia offers another view

Sharon Kemp | Bendigo Weekly | 12-Oct-2017

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IF Vision Australia’s Chris Edwards had his way, he would ask designers of the touch screen to try a new virtual reality experience that simulates the four most common eye conditions.

Mr Edwards, the organisation’s strategic partners manager who has almost no vision, said the virtual reality technology gave sighted people the experience of living life through the eyes of a person with low vision or blindness.

“It would be great for people that are planners to experience virtual reality, people who are thinking about developing transport or new products, people who are building touch screens where we face barriers, we would like people to experience that,” he said.

The new VR experience was developed by a Vision Australia team, including Bendigo regional practice leader Virginia McDonald, and asks participants wearing a headset to explore a virtual loungeroom through filters which replicate impaired vision for the conditions of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

The conditions are the four most common in Australia and Mrs McDonald said their incidence was increasing as the country’s population grew older.

With the headset on, VR participants are asked to make a phone call to experience the challenge of using a touch screen.

“Then we show you a post-environment of how Vision Australia has modified the environment to help the person,” Mrs McDonald said.

“It is taking all the head knowledge and making it real in the heart. It is increasing compassion and understanding.

“I have been an orthoptist for 20 years so I understand all the head stuff but it wasn’t until I put on the headset I realised (these conditions are really challenging).

“But at the end of it, I can take off the headset but what about someone who can’t, who lives with that every day, it really hits home.”

Vision Australia only has one headset and VR program that travels around the country and is used as an education tool.

More than 20 disability support workers in Bendigo used the tool for professional development  purposes early this week.

Mrs McDonald would like to expand the experience to include different rooms and locations, including a classroom to experience the challenges of vision impaired children.

“The applications are endless,” she said, adding the program depended on funding.

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