Mental health awareness means creating a world of empathy and coping with the stigma associated with it. Half the goal of this mission is achieved when the society accepts mental illness as real as physical illness. The other half is dealing with the problem and being sensitive towards the patients. We need to acknowledge mental illness, talk it out, and find solutions. Interestingly, Virtual Reality has come up as an approachable and novel method for treating types of mental health concerns. It has emerged as a viable solution for healing general stress, anxiety, tremors and phobias, depression and related disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The technology has been tested in secured and controlled environments in the form of virtual reality exposure therapy – VRET. With the prominence of VR headsets like HTC Vive, Microsoft Hololens, and VRXOne, the testing has become affordable and convenient. The scenario is far better than the mid-1990s when a head-mounted display rig would cost over $50,000. VRET has given a pragmatic direction to Telemedicine, which in turn opens doors to better healthcare conditions in rural and remote areas. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure Therapy are two prominent psychotherapeutic treatments for mental health. Under CBT, the patient attends a series of sessions where the target is to find the cause of disorder by analyzing the thought pattern of the patient and peeping into the history of phobia. The behavior of patient under challenging situations is recorded from which the source of their beliefs and notions is traced. For instance, if a patient is afraid of height, they will avoid climbing tall buildings. If they are insecure, they will avoid social gatherings. Calling them unsocial would not be a solution. It will only exacerbate the situation. CBT gives as a medium of tackling these situations and overcoming them. Exposure Therapy (ET), as the name suggests, is a treatment where the patient is exposed to such challenging situations and is gradually impelled to face them. In the real world, the exposure therapy requires extensive care and safety measures, thus making it nonviable in many situations like emulating a war zone, a crowded area, or a free fall! Also, ET goes hand in hand with CBT and is an obligatory part of it. Different kinds of health issues call for different CBTs and ETs. Another enterprise has come up with the concept of artificially intelligent virtual patients. Patients can open up to these virtual assistants whom they often trust more than doctors. Overcoming the fear of judgment, patients are able to get rid of social awkwardness. The physicians can then conduct clinical interviews and diagnostic assessments on these avatars. Facing a situation in a real therapy can be off-putting for many because the patients are usually reticent and sometimes unable to explain their behaviors. Another application of VR involves operationalizing the technology by training autistic patients and helping them gain necessary social skills. In tackling the persecutory delusions like in psychosis, VR has come out as successful again.
A Worthwhile Story Upholding The Power of Virtual Reality
Mel Slater, a professor of virtual environments shares an interesting story. “I was in one session where the guy had such a fear of public speaking that he told us about speaking at his daughter’s wedding. When we asked, ‘How old is your daughter?’, he said, ‘Three!’ He was later asked to speak in front of a virtual audience. Initially, he resisted, ‘I can’t do this, I’m turning bright red, my voice is an octave higher.’ The psychologist urged him to give it a shot and later played his video-recording asking, ‘Is your face red? No. Are you speaking an octave higher than normal? No.’ What Slater did in one afternoon would have taken 12 weeks otherwise. The result was warm and welcomed. The relevance of VR was also proven by the creation of ‘avatars’ to cope with anxiety and depression. The logic behind this simulation is rather interesting and a tad-bit twisted. The therapy happens in two stages. First of all, an avatar is created that embodies the patient who explains his problems to the psychiatrist in the therapy session. The avatar looks similar to the person and responds like him. In the next therapy session, an avatar is created of the psychiatrist and the patient embodies it. Now the psychiatrist’s avatar, maneuvered by the patient, talks to the patient’s avatar. So technically, it is the patient talking to himself. Switching roles and helping oneself – that’s the underlying idea. Why, you ask? Because we are generally too harsh and critical of ourselves. Through the virtual therapy, the patient is able to realize the problem and immerse oneself to find a solution. Here, the technology helps in the most impactful yet smooth way. Do we need to open up more about health issues? It’s a no-brainer. Of course, we do. Virtual Reality gives a chance to embrace and uplift people. We seem to have found a viable solution for improving mental health.
Imagine you’re in a foreign land. You do not understand the language of this place, nor do you seem to know the ways. You happen to be alien to the language on the road signs and the money vending machine. Anxious and panicked, your hands stumble upon the pocket and you wish to dial up the number of an acquaintance or rescuer, only to find a blank screen, totally unreadable.
This might be horrifying to you, but then you know, it’s hypothetical.
For some people, it’s the gist of their lives. The world of visually impaired people is not much different than this.
Automatic gadgets all around and yet we expect the visually challenged to hold a stick and find their way. Scientists have invented more things than any Guinness Book will be able to record. However, very less has fallen in the kitty of the blind where their lives haven’t changed much.
Smartness is a virtue to some people but these people have to have it. From environmental challenges to social apprehensions, life can anytime throw unexpected trials.
What are major challenges of the visually impaired outdoors?
Traveling in a crowded metro and walking by a lane of fast moving vehicles can be dangerous. Down to this reason, people usually accompany a friend or family member.
Also, at the home or workplace, they need to be familiar with the blockages like a table, chair, doors, and any potentially harmful obstacle. The walkways need to be clear but not every place is made that friendly.
Even the public conveniences like toilets are usually not customized for blinds. Such challenges hinder the growth opportunities of these people and limit the possibilities for progress.
The simple yet the very important access, that is the internet is not available to many who are deprived of the advanced technologies. Obtaining and maintaining a job are also far-fetched dreams for many since people usually focus on the disability than the other abilities in them.
The world has developed but not much for the blind people. A century ago, a Brit photographer had invented a white cane so that his surroundings could identify his condition. A hundred years later today, not many path-breaking projects that could prove life changing for these individuals are present.
How is Augmented Reality helping Visually Impaired?
AIRA, a platform to the rescue of visually impaired people came into existence. The brainchild of the three enthusiastic professionals, Suman Kanuganti, Yuja Chang, and blind communications professional Matt Brock, the technology is intended to bestow autonomy and independent outlook to the unsighted. Through its transformative remote assistive technology, the differently abled person is connected with AIRA’s certified agents through an Augmented Reality dashboard. The certified agents are able to see what the visually challenged person faces in real life. The agents then guide them through the way and help them make sound decisions.
The concept is so simple and beautiful, that it’s amusing why someone couldn’t come up with the idea any sooner.
The meaning behind AIRA is deeper than you would imagine. Pronounced as EYE-rah, the technology derives its name from the combination of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and RA (an ancient Egyptian mythological symbol meaning Eye of Ra. The eye of RA is a representative of protection, healing, and the power to perceive.
Aira’s Certified Agents:
Joining the team means helping people and being soulfully satisfied. The unprecedented technology helps the blind enjoy the world and travel around without the need of an assistant all the time. With a strong desire to help people, AIRA makes it easy to explore the world through its real-time request feature which provides a virtual friend. The great feature is that the wearable device can connect to any smartphone pretty easily and is durable.
While providing help whenever required and wherever, AIRA is making a bold step towards the emancipation of those who were left with a stick.
Working with Special Education Needs can be very heartening, though its not difficult to imagine the multiple challenges faced by their instructor. Students with cognitive, intellectual, mental, or other disabilities often deficit communication skills, apart from difficulty in concentration, focus, and expression. For our quest to contribute to enhance learning practices, we have experienced how Virtual Reality is one revolutionary method in special education in many aspects.
Increasingly being recognized as an effective tool for its rehabilitation abilities for cognitive processes and functional aspects, Virtual Reality (VR) provides special needs students with opportunities to improve their intellectual and motor skills within the safe powerful simulated virtual environments. Given that the students with special needs are limited in their ability to explore their surrounding and extended environments, VR affords them the opportunity to discover the world in fascinating virtual environments where they are able to swim with the sharks or fly in the clouds, go on space excursion and even travel to planet Mars, sounds like an exciting classroom.
This is what VRXOne is going to be showcasing at the most awaited annual Bahrain Summer Festival where Nakhool Tent is opened to the families for participation in many cultural events, educational activities and entertainment programs. Bringing “Google Expeditions for Special Education Needs” to the event, the program will be held in association with the Bahrain Association for Parents and Friends of the Disabled, which is known in the region for its brilliant contribution towards the well-being and welfare of special needs students and their families through a number of interactive events, lectures, learning activities as well as cultural celebrations.
Just last year, the Association awarded Dr. Sana Farid, the AR/VR/Ai and Simulation expert at VRXOne and Co-founder & CEO of Munfarid Consulting, for her efforts and training workshops in Technology Aided Learning & Development for the Disabled, and Assistive Technology. Her ongoing efforts for the cause are manifest through VRXOne’s One Million VR Expeditions program in the Middle East with a special focus on Special Education Needs.
Since the use of virtual environments for special needs is as diverse as the field of Special Education itself, VR offers many benefits for students with disabilities including the ability to be adaptable and controllable as per the needs of an individual student, making it all the more ideal for special education purposes. What’s even more exciting is that beyond merely providing the chance to explore and learn about places, things, processes and subjects, VR even helps equip students with life skills by simulating training environments that assist in highlighting and focusing on individual strengths, abilities and learning preferences outside of their real world disabilities.
What this does for a special needs students is essentially huge in terms of a remarkable change in their self-confidence, self-esteem and ultimately serving to transform them into contributing citizens in the society. Ms. Abla Ahmed Mohamed, the Head of Activities and Projects Committee at the Bahrain Association of Parents and Friends of the Disabled, is certainly positive about the impact of VR in a special needs classroom, “The impact of VR on special needs is fascinating. Watching students with various disabilities being able to travel the world in minutes, is very uplifting. VR is definitely going to enable them to do a lot.”
On the part of teachers, VR helps them engage their students more comprehensively and provide them with a highly tempting learning environment, further assisting with communication skills especially when it comes to inclusive classrooms where teachers face one of the most challenging test of their jobs. Also facilitating an improved and much more organized form of interaction, VR enables the teachers to view live feed of what each student is looking at and discuss or ask questions about their experience and their personal focus. This is just the beginning for far more personalized learning opportunities for special needs students.
Evidently, engaging students with intellectual or other disabilities is not an easy task. The increasingly accessible and affordable virtual reality-based methods provide an ideal framework as an educational and training medium for them and developing their hidden talents into useful, practical strengths. No words can describe the happiness felt by the special children – and the satisfaction gained by the enablers – when their dreams come true through a simulated environment whether it is a dream to visit the pyramids, go for a hike on top of the highest mountains or just watch dinosaurs come alive from billions of years ago.