Virtual reality training tools for disability services

Virtual reality training tools for disability services
Organisation: House with No Steps Partner: Centre for Social Impact, UNSW
Contact: Angela Meyer

This project explored a prototype virtual reality technology to train both support workers and NDIS participants in responding appropriately to challenging situations that may arise in supported living situations.

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The Context

House with No Steps (HWNS) provides services to people with physical and intellectual disabilities to support greater financial and personal independence. HWNS’s services include supported living, flexible support in the family home, respite and community access programs in Queensland, the ACT, NSW and Victoria.

The Problem

With a critical need to grow and train its workforce, HWNS looked at the problem of effectively delivering safety-critical training. Workers supporting NDIS participants living in shared living arrangements may face complex and diverse challenges. HWNS has been looking at how to simulate risk-intensive situations so that support workers can learn and practice appropriate responses in a safe environment. This awareness of scenarios is not only needed to ensure that workers are adequately trained for their job roles, but it is also essential in communicating to potential new entrants to the disability workforce about what jobs may entail.

The Solution

A prototype virtual reality (VR) training technology was envisaged as a useful tool for support workers. In the next phase, the tool may be useful for NDIS participants in supported living accommodation to prepare for their unique situations.

Using techniques and technologies developed to create highly engaging immersive interactive entertainment, HWNS aims to explore building best practice VR training in the disability sector. Engaging risk assessment specialists, the project team aims to collect evidence and make recommendations about how support workers can utilise VR as a learning opportunity to develop capability in workplace risk situations.

Expected Impact

Awareness of social risk scenarios is vital within the disability support workforce. Immersive training appears to offer a useful avenue for increasing awareness but there is insufficient data available to guide disability sector organisations in their adoption of Extended Reality (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality/Mixed Reality).

HWNS aims to provide valuable data for the sector through a rigorously evaluated pilot. VR’s much touted role as an “empathy engine” is still undergoing scrutiny (e.g. can immersive experiences truly lead to social change?) but what is clear is that experience design offers intriguing possibilities for education and training designers across traditional and new mediums. HWNS are developing awareness of the space around VR and the tools for weighing its advantages and disadvantages for their workforce and NDIS participants.

Stage and Spread

This VR exploration is a new direction for HWNS. They are engaging at the grassroots level of organisation with this medium and new possibilities. Through a series of workshops in partnership with The Centre for Social Impact (a collaboration between UNSW, Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Western Australia), HWNS is honing the development of a novel training tool. Following a “Hack day for immersive tech in the disabilities sector”, HWNS selected Doorway Immersive Multi-Risk Environment (DIME) as the winning concept to move forward with into VR prototyping. Future stages will see trialling this experience as a test of complex situations that occur in real life where risk prioritisation is key.

Lessons and Insights

HWNS, as a newcomer to the Extended Reality sector, initially proposed a project which would have delivered more general and basic research outcomes on paper before actual experience design and testing began. Through active engagement with stakeholders and sector practitioners, the team has accelerated its understanding of the VR landscape, identified design and build partners and is on track to build a real prototype that can be tested for the greater benefit of the sector.

Roadblocks and Risks

In the framing of the original project, the term VR was used as a catch-all for all manner of immersive technologies yet to be explored, thus casting a wide net. With IWF support, the project team have been able to get a better sense of the incredibly wide possibility space in Extended Reality - everything from Augmented Reality on mobile phones, Virtual Reality walk-through experiences, through to Mixed Reality concepts that blur the lines between digital and physical space.

By exposing themselves to the gamut of Extended Reality possibilities early on, while continuing to refine the parameters for their risk scenario training tool, HWNS have reduced the risk of going too broad in their thinking and not arriving with a viable pilot product.