Virtual world offers support, ‘second life’ to those with disabilities

TUCSON, Ariz. — Researchers believe delivering evidence-based support and education in a virtual environment could offer a comfortable transition for new amputees into functional society, as well as an accessible outlet for those who want to connect.

Nova Southeastern University has been investigating this concept through the Second Life Virtual World — an online, 3-D environment where people are represented by avatars — and revealed key findings at the Amputee Coalition National Conference.

In this setting, users have access to an immersive environment and can experience how daily activities, such as exercising and conditioning, can be learned as an avatar in the virtual arena. They also experience real-time interaction, peer visitation, socialization and support activities with amputees from across the world.

This tool could strengthen awareness and self-management of a user’s specific disability, Sandra Winkler, PhD, OTR/L, lead researcher of the project, said during a presentation here.

Sandra Winkler


“The trend in health care is managing your own care, rather than relying on a provider to tell you what to do,” she said. “Managing your own care provides access to knowledge … then you can start problem-solving what is best for you.”

Recreational activities are easiest to understand when engaging in the activity, according to Winkler, who believes this program provides that opportunity.

Nova Southeastern University has been working with Virtual Ability, a nonprofit, cross-disability support group, and the Amputee Coalition to extend this effort to the greater disability community. They are currently looking for research volunteers. – by Shawn M. Carter


Winkler S, et al. Virtual support and education through second life. Presented at: Amputee Coalition National Conference; July 23-25, 2015; Tucson, Ariz.

Disclosure: Winkler reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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