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Disabilities in MUVEs

Yesterday in Second Life, on of our students (or unofficial participants, it’s a bit confusing at the moment) developed a technical glitch in which everything she typed was repeated twice or sometimes four times. (Like Jimmy Two-Times from Goodfellas). After double-talking a couple of times, she began apologizing for her “disability.”

I began thinking that a “disability” in the MUVE environment would be directly connected to the platform. A computer-based interface might level/eliminate certain disabilities (deafness, for example, in text-based environments) while highlighting/amplifying others (cognititive disabilities, for example, or those that prevent use of the interface at all, such as blindness in the case of a 3D world).

I also began thinking how an educational experience might be crafted around imposing a “disability” on students and asking them to experience the world through that lens, particularly if they are able-bodied in real life. Might make for some interesting insights and revelations…

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{ 3 } Comments

  1. Pathfinder Linden | September 21, 2006 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    “I also began thinking how an educational experience might be crafted around imposing a “disability” on students and asking them to experience the world through that lens, particularly if they are able-bodied in real life.”

    You should check this out: http://2ndisability.blogspot.com/

  2. FEZ Rutherford | September 22, 2006 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    Hell… THAT is fast….
    Yeah. I had the same idea. Right now I’m working on a tool which let’s you experience some disabilities.
    Contact me via my blog or ingame via IM.
    FEZ

  3. Muskie Marquette | October 9, 2006 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I am not sure at all how I feel about any of this.

    I am a RL disabled person who has made a point of (usually) duplicating my appearance and disability in SL. I do that because it is who I am, and I genuinely feel uncomfortable when I see my avatar running around as if I were skinny, conventionally shaped, and ambulatory. A friend of mine does the same thing. As she put it “I’m not going to have spent all my life fighting for the right to be in my body only to give up that right in SL”

    But when able bodied people play at being disabled, they *do not* understand disability better. This is why many disability activists are opposed to disability simulations.

    You can’t acquire the skills of living with disability in an instant (for example: an able bodied person using a wheelchair has a much more difficult time of it than daily wheelchair users who have the motor skills, the musculature, and the savvy to use one with as little thought as an ambulatory person gets up and walks. Ditto for blindness, deafness, and even more neurological matters such as dealing with the sensory and processing aspects of autism). You can’t learn that you haven’t “lost” anything (for those who have acquired a disability later in life), you’ve just changed, in an instant. If it’s not who you are, but what you are temporarily playing, it can’t ever feel a part of you.And you can’t acquire the cultural traits of a disabled person (yes, there is disabled culture, and especially hospital/institutional/special ed cultures) in an instant.

    Playing at disability in Second Life, or anywhere else, is like putting on blackface: it won’t make a white person black, and it verges on racism.

    It leaves the player with the sense that life is much harder for a disabled person than it really is, gives a false impression of where the difficulties really lie, and further feeds the deadly belief that disabled people live a pitiful existence and would in many cases be better off dead (this belief, literally, kills — disabled people are commonly denied lifesaving medical treatment on the grounds that they have a lower quality of life anyway, in spite of countless studies that show that disabled people if anything rate their quality of life slightly *higher*).

    Someone playing at being me, for example, would conclude that I don’t get out much because I have this heavy awful wheelchair that pains them to use, whereas I know my transportation problem is that the special transportation vans are unreliable and inflexible, and the lift-equipped taxis in town cost far more than I can afford. This only contributes to the phenomenon of “lets raise money to cure pitiful condition XYZ” , while funding for accessibility and services is cut. Someone playing at me would conclude that, given the difficulties they face (with none of the adaptive skills I have) if I were to appear in their emergency room with respiratory arrest, out of “mercy” they shouldn’t revive me.

    And it is insulting to me to steal my identity. How would you feel if someone playacted at your ethnicity or religion or nationality? It would feel like a violation, yes? It feels the same way when someone playacts at having a body like mine.

    So I am all for disabled people simulating their disabilities in SL. I am opposed to non-disabled people playacting at being disabled for a day, reinforcing their preexisting stereotypes, developing new stereotypes, and violating the integrity and authenticity of who I am.