METANOMICS: VIRTUAL ABILITY
FEBRUARY 23, 2009
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hello, everyone. I’m your host, Robert Bloomfield, and, on behalf
of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and Remedy
Communications, welcome to Metanomics. Today we turn our sites back to nonprofit
organizations in Second Life and talk with Alice Krueger, founder of Virtual Ability
Incorporated, an organization that is devoted to assisting people with disabilities to come
into Virtual Worlds like Second Life. As always, Metanomics is filmed from the virtual Sage
Hall right here in Second Life’s Metanomics region, home of Cornell University’s Johnson
Graduate School of Management.
I’d like to say hello to our live audiences at our event partner locations: Muse Isle,
Confederation of Democratic Sims, Rockliffe University, New Media Consortium and Orange
Isle. Welcome, as well, to our growing web audience. If you’re having trouble getting into
Second Life due to a firewall or lack of bandwidth or any other reason, you can go into
metanomics.net/watchnow and see the show live, but also participate in backchat through
InterSection Unlimited’s ChatBridge system.
We start our show today with an update on one of the most successful nonprofit fundraising
events in Second Life: the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. To tell us the story, we
welcome Fayandria Foley, event chairman for Second Life’s 2009 Relay for Life and also
the founder of Second Life’s cancer survivor and caregiver groups. Fayandria, welcome to
Metanomics. Fayandria, are you there?
FAYANDRIA FOLEY: I am. Thank you for having me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, wonderful! Yeah, delighted. So tell us how did you initially get
involved in Relay for Life?
FAYANDRIA FOLEY: Cancer. I was diagnosed with cancer. I have melanoma, and, when I
came out of the doctor’s office, the oncologist’s office, and I sat in my car gasping. Gasping
literally. I happened to notice some activity on a school playground, a football field, behind
me, and I went over there, because obviously I really wasn’t as ready to die as I thought I
was, and it was a relay. And, from there on in, I tell people relay saved my life. I have no
doubt that it saved my life that day, and I absolutely know for a fact that it’ll save my life
when it comes down to the line because we’ll find a cure. So that’s how I got tied in with it to
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: This is the first Relay for Life that you’re going to be organizing,
but it’s been going for a while. I guess the first Relay for Life, in Second Life, was in 2005,
organized by Jade Lily. Can you tell us a little bit about how the event has grown since then
and what you expect for 2009?
FAYANDRIA FOLEY: Oh, I expect huge gains in 2009. I think this is actually my second
and a half Relay to organize here in Second Life. Jade started it as a fundraising event for
his real-life Relay team. And then, from there, it went into 2006, which was an event, and
Jade chaired that. I came in then to find Jade. I don’t know. I just wanted to walk in it. Jade
talked me into co-chairing with her, and it just grew from there. It just kept going. What I
think we’re going to see is, every year we’ve more than doubled the amount that we’ve
raised. 2005, it was 5,000; 2006, it was 41,000; 2007, it was 118,000; last year we did
211,000 U.S. dollars. So I mean I get goosebumps. I absolutely have no doubt that this year
will hit 250,000 U.S. dollars-plus. I have no doubt.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’m curious. Naturally, as an accounting professor, I’m very
interested in the money side of things. You mentioned your introduction to Relay for Life. It
had a very strong personal effect on you, not just because it eventually promised funds for a
cure, but also you said it personally saved your life. So I’m wondering if you can talk about
what it means, from a personal level, for people to get involved with Relay for Life and also
whether you think that that effect will be stronger or weaker in the virtual environment of
FAYANDRIA FOLEY: The personal effect that it has on people is, it’s vital. It’s what makes
Relay special. Instead of just being a fundraiser that you go to and you throw some money
in a kiosk and you go home, you actually go there and are encouraged to mourn, miss, cry
for the person that you’ve lost to cancer. You’re encouraged to laugh and tell stories about
that person and about the people that you know dealing with cancer. You share so much
information. You talk about your fears, and it’s just a big emotional support group. And relay,
it seems like the larger we get, the more we pull in, the more people we reach and the more
intensity of those stories and those feelings because, heck, they all basically have one thing:
they all have pain in the middle of them somewhere, somehow.
It can be the pain from being scared that you’re going to get it. It can be a pain from knowing
that you do have it. It can be losing somebody. I mean we’re all tied together in that, and it
does not matter whether you’re in Second Life or real life, that emotion’s the same. And
therefore, as we get larger and reach out to more people, there’s more people feeding that
emotion, and you can almost feel it. It knocks you for a loop; it’s just so intense and
powerful. And they’ve all got one goal: relay.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Do you see other nonprofits likely to follow this model actually in
real life or in Second Life?
FAYANDRIA FOLEY: I anticipate, in fact, I’m really kind of surprised that at this point more
people haven’t tried to follow it, more nonprofits. Maybe indirectly they have with the--what
do we have--the three-day breast run. There’s breast cancer run. There’s different things
that are kind of out there, but the American Cancer Society has made this their signature
fundraising event. That’s a well-known fact, and besides taking donations, it’s really the
main one that they pull out, and that’s what they run their services and research from. So
I’m guessing on this one, but I really kind of think that the other nonprofits are going, “That’s
ACS’s thing. That’s what they do. We’ll try to find something that works for us.” But I mean--I
don’t know. I do think that other people have tried, and it’s not that we’re better at it. I think
sometimes it just has to do with the sad fact that cancer is more prevalent in all of our lives.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, well, that is certainly the case, and I think we all appreciate
you for taking on this task, which I’m sure is a great deal of work. And I’m sure you would be
looking for help. Could you give us just some of the details on exactly when this will be and
what people should do if they want to get involved?
FAYANDRIA FOLEY: Well, we have officially started the relaying part of Relay, and what
that is, is about a six-month time period that we spend getting our act together, and sadly it
sometimes takes six months, but not really. It just started this week. If you want to be a team
captain, you need to go to the website. It’s relayforlifeofsecondlife.org. Contact me. Contact
anybody that you know that’s into Relay, and they’ll tell you who to get hold of. And we’re
taking team captains right now. We’re taking people that want to become involved as just a
volunteer. We’re taking people that want to come and walk as a survivor or a caregiver.
I mean if you want your finger in the pie with Relay, if you want to come and be involved at
the very beginning, come on. We want you there. We want you involved. The only way that
we’re going to keep growing and keep being able to turn out the amount of money that we
are to support this fight is by encouraging new people to come out and step in and help us
to relay, to be part of what we’re doing. What we’ll do now is have team captain events
between now and July 18th. Our Relay is actually going to be July 18th and 19th. It’s an
overnight thing. We relay, I think it works out to 23 hours. But, by the time we get to go
home, it’s easily over 24 hours.
We’re going to have 37 Sims this year. So if you’re a builder, ask Stella. She is our design
chair for that. She wants names. She wants people. She’ll plug you into a spot. I tried to get
on the design team, and she told me I had to pick up litter, so I’m not going to sign up for
that group, but there’s a spot for everybody. If you’re not a designer, she’ll find a spot for
you. And, of course, we have some other great people. We have Nuala Maracas. She’s
doing entertainment. We have Tayzia Abattoir. She is doing our teams. We have Belle Loll,
and she’s our community outreach. So I’m serious. If there’s anything that you want to do,
we have a spot for you in Relay. We’ll plug you in. We can cover it.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, thanks so much, Fay, for coming on to the show and
telling our audience about this year’s American Cancer Society Relay for Life. I look forward
to hearing a report afterwards.
FAYANDRIA FOLEY: Thank you. I look forward to giving one.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’d just like to mention we do have a question here from
DavidBatty Hathaway asking--on the numbers of fundraising that Fay mentioned, he’s
asking, “Is that cumulative or annual?” Those are actually annual numbers. So when you
see the numbers being raised going up and up, it’s not because they’re just adding in what
they made in prior years. It’s actually increasing on a per-year basis. So congratulations to
the organizers and, of course, to all the people who were generous with their time and with
their money in contributing to the American Cancer Society.
So let’s move on now to our main guest of the day, Alice Krueger, known in Second Life as
Gentle Heron. Alice is a founder of the nonprofit organization Virtual Ability Incorporated,
which provides customized training and orientation to the growing number of people, with
disabilities, who are exploring Second Life. Alice, welcome to Metanomics.
ALICE KRUEGER: Thank you very much.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It’s great to have you here, and it’s been fascinating to prepare
for this show. Alice, you know very personally how disabilities can pose challenges for
participation in a Virtual World. Can you tell us about your own situation?
ALICE KRUEGER: Certainly. I’m a person who lives with multiple sclerosis. I also have a
very large spinal fusion. I have three college-age children who are also disabled. I am a
volunteer with VAI, and so I get to interact with lots of other people who have different kinds
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Most people are used to thinking about the technical
requirements that someone has to use for a software package like Second Life. A recent
computer, a certain quality graphics card, broadband internet connection and so on. But, on
the Virtual Ability’s website, you also spell out some of the more personal specifications for
a successful Second Life experience. What are those?
ALICE KRUEGER: Oh, yes, that’s very important. We look at these as being sort of the
enablers of participation in Second Life. For example, pressing two keys on opposite sides
of the keyboard at the same time or pressing and holding down a key and the mouse button
while you’re moving the mouse, those are things that are generally thought of as necessary
to control your character, including adjusting your camera or your point of view. But those
are very difficult to achieve if you have a stylus.
Another thing that we do all the time managing our inventory, dropping and dragging with a
mouse, that’s very difficult for people who don’t have mouse systems. So people who have
these kinds of access issues either use assisted technology already, or we refer them to an
assisted technology practitioner, an ATP, either one of those who volunteers for VAI, Virtual
Ability, or through the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North
America; that’s also known as RESNA, and that website should appear.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can you talk a little bit to deal with these sorts of motions? You
actually use special technology. And so I’m wondering if you could about the technology you
have and how specifically it helps you with multiple sclerosis and spinal fusion.
ALICE KRUEGER: Certainly. I have an adaptive office because of my disabilities. My state
Department of Vocational Rehabilitation has given me a specialized reclining chair so that I
can recline flat back, and that takes the pressure off my lower spine. That’s difficult then to
access my computer, so I have a desk that is on hydraulics. It can be moved up and down,
and I can tilt it up over my reclined chair. And sometimes you’ll probably hear [SOUND OF
THE HYDRAULICS] me changing positions.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, I can hear that.
ALICE KRUEGER: I need to do that pretty regularly. My computed is bolted onto a platform
on the desk so that screen is always horizontal to me. That’s how I can see what I’m doing. I
also have voice-recognition software called Dragon Naturally Speaking, and that helps me. I
can talk, and it will type what I say onto the screen, but it interferes with voice so I can’t use
it right now. It’s a commercially available program. With Dragon, I can control the position of
the curser on the screen, and I can also tell the cursor to click so it helps me navigate.
I have some hearing impairment from the MS. I do have trouble understanding people on
ventilators or people with speech impairments like I have. So sometimes I have to change
my volume settings. And small print and things that rez slowly are really difficult for me, and
I have a super-large screen to help that.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You have a number of friends, obviously, and people you brought
in through Virtual Ability, who have some different technology. I understand a friend of
yours, Tom, has cerebral palsy, and he has some different equipment?
ALICE KRUEGER: Yes. He types with his toes actually. His toes work better than his hands
do. He’s a graduate student now. He has actually graduated, and so he types all his papers
with his keyboard on the floor. It’s not an adaptive keyboard. But the way he uses it is
specialized because of his particular needs.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And Leigh-Anne is doing outsourcing work through Second Life.
ALICE KRUEGER: Not through Second Life. She actually is very successful. She’s also a
toe-typer, but she also has a stylus on a headband, which she can use to touch her screen.
She is a very successful commercial graphics artist, and all her artwork is produced with her
feet and nods of her head.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Wow! That is impressive. And Linda?
ALICE KRUEGER: Yes. Linda is a woman who was deafened late in life because of head
trauma, and she now has Cochlear implants that allow her some hearing. But listening for
her is really physically and mentally demanding using those implants. So while people with
normal hearing can listen to sound, except for really loud rock music obviously--listen all day
long, Linda has to rest after a certain time spent concentrating on understanding what the
sounds mean that are transmitted to her.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, those are very impressive stories. Your nonprofit
organization is devoted to essentially onboarding the disabled into Second Life. I think we all
struggle with this, getting people who have never come into Second Life. It’s difficult even
with people who have all the technology and they are meeting all the personal specifications
as well. I understand that you developed your region specifically to be convenient for
introducing people with disabilities. Can you talk about some of the considerations that went
into the design of the Virtual Ability region?
ALICE KRUEGER: Certainly. Virtual Ability Island is now a community gateway for people
with disabilities, and we know that some of our new members will be brand new to online
gaming, while others of them have a lot of experience in other games. So we made the
orientation explicitly directive for those who need to learn the very basic skills, such as using
the arrow keys for walking. We don’t want to bore or insult the more experienced
newcomers, but those who are brand new to gaming need to learn those keys. So our brand
new avatars land on a highly visible graphic of the arrow keys, and they’re labeled so that
you know exactly what to do to move away from where you enter Second Life.
Another thing we wanted to accomplish was to make the whole place feel comfortable for
everyone, whether they used a wheelchair in Second Life or real life or not. So we made the
pathways broad. We made the ramps very generous, and we’re getting good responses.
People seem to feel comfortable in the environment we’ve created.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And how about issues like colorblindness and dyslexia? Are there
features that are designed to address those?
ALICE KRUEGER: Colorblindness is an issue that is a problem for all websites, and so we
followed the WC3 Guidelines for colors. We also were very careful to user-test the posters
that we have on our island. Dyslexia is difficult, and actually a technology that we will offer,
that we’ll talk about in a little bit, is going to be something that will be very helpful to people
with dyslexia, as well as to people with visual impairments.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I should mention that the backchat is now responding to some of
the graphics they’ve seen and the things you’ve mentioned. In particular, Riven Homewood
is exclaiming how simple the graphic is where you have people on that screen moving
forward and backward, with the up and down and side arrows. It really is an excellent design
ALICE KRUEGER: Yet we don’t want to insult people who already know that. We don’t
want to slow down the experienced gamers.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Actually, I’d like to talk about that because your orientation and
training program is actually based on specific educational theories that deal with adult
education, and, I guess, the terms here that were new to me were andragogy and spiral
curricula. So could you tell us what those are and how they’re reflected in your programs?
ALICE KRUEGER: Sure. Andragogy is concept from Malcolm Knowles. It’s a theory of
adult informal learning, and that was really important as a theoretical basis for the design of
our accessibility-friendly orientation. For example, we know that adults learn best by solving
problems, and they use knowledge from their life experiences. So we incorporated that into
The idea of a spiral curriculum is from the education theory of Jerome Bruner. I am an
educator so I could go on and on in educationese, but no doubt you’ve experienced the
spiral curriculum. To learners, it feels like you’re reviewing what you learned previously. To
educators, it’s reminding the learner of the scaffolding on which they’re going to build their
new learning. The same principles apply to the able-bodied, in terms of adult learning, but
it’s really more important to do this carefully and well for those of us who have disabilities.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: If we could, I’d like to talk about two particularly common
disabilities: hearing and visual impairment. Let’s start with hearing. What are the options in
Second Life for the hearing-impaired?
ALICE KRUEGER: Of course, one option is to stick strictly to text. That’s definitely an
option. And there are many reasons that people don’t participate in voice, in Second Life,
not just because they’re hearing impaired. There are also transcription services, both
directions, voice to text and text to voice, and we have in our audience today
LoriVonne Lustre, who is a transcriptionist, and she is transcribing our speech today,
Beyers, into typed text for the group that is hearing-impaired.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Actually, I’d just like to follow up on that because my
understanding is that Virtual Ability is going to try to provide this type of service on an
ongoing basis to our hearing-impaired Metanomics viewers. So thank you very much.
ALICE KRUEGER: It’s definitely going to make your show more accessible.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. This is something that
we’ve been struggling with from the beginning is trying to get the word out and make it
accessible to everyone. If anyone is interested, by the way, out there in transcribing in
different languages and taking our text transcripts and translating them, please let us know
as well. How about American sign language for the hearing impaired? Is that an option in
ALICE KRUEGER: I think it perhaps will be eventually, but, if you look down at your avatar
hands and look at your fingers and think about how much it would take, how much in terms
of scripting of your avatar it would take to make the fingers move in a way that would be
recognizable, it’s going to take a while for that to happen.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. ASL, American Sign Language, can be typed, right?
ALICE KRUEGER: Yes, yes. The words in American sign language and British sign
language and the other sign languages around the world, they are the same words that we
use in English. American sign language uses English words, but the grammar is different.
So sometimes when you’re talking with someone who speaks ASL, if you’re an English
speaker, you won’t recognize their grammar. But understand that that’s because they are
speaking a different language than you are, using the same words, but a different language.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now let’s turn to visual impairment, which, boy, that seems like a
much more difficult challenge in a World that is primarily visually defined. We had hoped to
have some demonstrations live during the show, but that didn’t quite work out. We will do
those after the show and get them up on YouTube and make sure they become part of the
ALICE KRUEGER: Oh. Be sure your audience looks at that. That’s just amazing.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let’s just talk about it a little bit. So the two tools we were going to
be taking a look at were a cane and a guide dog. How do those work?
ALICE KRUEGER: Oh. Well, technically, I’m not going to be able to answer that question.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, no, technically actually, I’m not really that interested.
ALICE KRUEGER: I’m someone who’s non-technical [CROSSTALK]. There is a group in
Second Life that works with virtual guide dogs, and they have a fantastic scripter named
Charles Mountain, who has been able to create a guide dog and a cane that look like the
tools that people who are visually impaired use in real life and that allow people with visual
impairments to function somewhat in Second Life. Please understand this is in beta still. It’s
not a finished product. They’re still working on this. They’re all volunteers. They’re making
amazing progress for an all-volunteer group.
Louise Later and Jolie1 Magic are officers in that organization as well. They are twin sisters
who were born very prematurely. Jolie is completely blind. Louise has only central vision in
one eye. And yet they both are able to enter into and work in Second Life a little bit with their
avatars. Obviously, Louise much more easily than Jolie.
The dog is able to identify, in its surroundings, to the user the avatars that are there, the
objects that are there and the scripts that are there. And a screen-reading program reads
that out loud so that the blind person can hear the dog’s basically talking to them in English.
And the blind user will be able to understand what’s in the environment. Then the blind user
can tell the dog to go to either an avatar or an object or a script. So, for instance, if Jolie had
her dog open, she could--
It looks like my Second Life has crashed. I’m not sure if you guys can still hear me.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I can hear you at this point.
ALICE KRUEGER: Well, that’s good. All right. I’ll keep talking then.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, it does happen. One of the things I’ve learned about
Second Life is that it’s actually a bunch of different programs just kind of stapled together,
so your voice may continue working, and I may end up talking to an empty chair in a minute
ALICE KRUEGER: --can go to, and it can follow. So a person with a visual impairment can
navigate in the environment of Second Life and can actually follow others who can see. The
part that we’re not able to do yet is to access--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, Alice, we’ll get a chance to see a demo of what the dog and
the cane can do for people with visual impairments, but I’m wondering if you can talk a little
bit about what it currently can’t do. What are the biggest challenges in developing in-world
technology for the visually impaired?
ALICE KRUEGER: This is something that a lot of people with full vision don’t understand.
We see text similarly whether it’s typed into local chat or an IM or whether it’s a texture on a
poster or is a blue drop-down message from Second Life that you’re about to experience a
major crash. To us who see, those are the same thing: they’re all text. But to a computer,
they’re different. A texture is an image so the texture with text on a poster is an image, and
a screen reader can’t see it so therefore, the dog, which uses a screen reader basically,
can’t see a poster as anything other than an object. However, if the object can have
embedded in it a WAV file, with an audio description, the dog can read that WAV file. So it is
possible to have people who create objects with text on them as textures embed that text as
an audio text, and the dog can then access it. But we still haven’t figured out how to access
the pie menu, the inventory. Those are things that are really important, and the dog can’t
define it yet.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now the inventory is, of course, the list of all the assets that an
avatar has on the Second Life server. By the pie menu, you’re talking about what you get
when you right-click on an object, and it gives you various ways to interact?
ALICE KRUEGER: Right. It’s the way you interact with objects. It’s a menu--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It sounds like it’s a mix of technical fixes that you might be able to
do something about, like being able to have a guide dog access inventory or access a
pie menu. But some of these, it sounds like, are really things that have to be done by the
people who are creating content. It would be up to the person creating a graphic poster with
words on it, to attach a WAV file or some other type of file that could be read by the visually
ALICE KRUEGER: To use the current capabilities of the dog, it’s very important that
builders label their prims. Right now many builders don’t bother to label things because a
sighted person can see that this collection of 14 prims is a chair. However, the dog will read
those as object, object, object, object, object. So it’s very important for builders to label the
things that they create so that the dog can find them and name them correctly for the user.
That’s something that the dog can do in its current embodiment.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So that actually takes us to a question that I’ve been seeing a lot
about in the backchat just now, which is Section 508 compliance. As I understand it, Section
508 is part of the federal law that requires the ability for full participation in--and
accessibility--what is it--it requires that federal agencies’ electronic and information
technology is accessible to people with disabilities.
ALICE KRUEGER: Correct.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I know that you’re not a lawyer, but I’m curious right now. How
far are we from having an agency, like for example NASA, which is in Second Life, from
their being able to have a Second Life presence and be 508 compliant?
ALICE KRUEGER: Well, as you point out, Second Life is not Section 508 compliant. As far
as I know, no Virtual World is at this point. It’s a matter of working towards this, and, as long
as everyone is in good faith, moving in that direction, I think we’re going to be seeing more
and more federal agency presence in the Second Life. And I would like to point out that
Section 508 is U.S. law, and there are similar laws in other countries.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: If someone from a federal agency is interested in getting more
involved in Virtual Worlds and they’re worried about 508 compliance, is there someone at
Linden Lab they should talk to or someone with your group that they could turn to?
ALICE KRUEGER: There are many people that they could talk with. I don’t think there is a
specific Linden assigned to Section 508 compliance. Linden Lab is obviously interested in
this, and you’ll find some very good information on their Wiki. You can talk to our group. You
can talk to Accessible Builds with Polgara Paine. There are a number of places that you can
talk to that’ll help you.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay, thanks. So far we’ve focused primarily on how Second Life
can be made more accessible and the challenges of using Second Life for people who have
disabilities. But, we haven’t really talked at all about why they would bother coming to
Second Life in the first place. It seems to me that there are really four key reasons, and I
thought maybe we could go through these in turn. The first one is basically to find support
communities. Well, the four, I guess I’ll just list them: support communities, information,
therapy, and, of course, entertainment.
But let’s start out with support communities, and can you tell us a little bit about Cape Able,
or I guess it could be pronounced “CapeAble.”
ALICE KRUEGER: Right. People pronounce it both ways. I pronounce it Cape Able. And
that was a Sim that mainly served the culturally deaf, the recently deafened and the
hearing-impaired people who came into Second Life. It has residential areas. It has a
service center that has a great collection of resources, not just for people with hearing
impairments, but for other disabilities as well. They have an art gallery that features the
works of artists with disabilities. The grand opening of the art gallery yesterday features two
Second Life artists who are deaf.
There’s also the first deaf-chat coffee house in a Virtual World, here in Second Life, on
Cape Able. And deaf-chat coffees are a project of Starbucks, and they have a website that
recognizes deaf-chat coffees all over the United States, and now they recognize the one on
Cape Able as the first one in a Virtual World.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And as an example of information sources that people could be
seeking out coming into Virtual Worlds, we’ve got Health Info Island and the Path of
Support. Can you tell us about that?
ALICE KRUEGER: Certainly. There’s a number of good resources for people on Health Info
Island, and one of those is the Path of Support, which is a series of posters that are about
the peer support groups here in Second Life, for people with disabilities. We were really
pleased. We found over 70 different peer support groups that are in English, and we know
that there are others in other languages as well. So a Second Life resident walking down the
Path of Support can get information about these support groups and learn how to access
them for information. And so it’s so much better to be part of a peer support group in
Second Life. I belong to both real life and Second Life peer support groups for multiple
To get to my real life group meeting every month, I have to arrange para-transit. I spend an
hour on a rattling old bus, to get to a place that is 20 minutes from my home. I am told when
I will pick up the bus. I can’t go when I want to. When I get to my real life support group
meeting, then I have to figure out how to get into the building. It’s not totally accessible
where we’re meeting. And then, after the meeting, I again have to catch the para-transit bus
when they decide to pick me up, not on my schedule, and it’s another hour rattling back.
In Second Life, to go to my monthly peer support group, I teleport, and there I am.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Well, there definitely are reasons to come into Virtual
Worlds, which I guess are also, hopefully, clear to the people who are joining us right now
from literally all over the world.
ALICE KRUEGER: Yes.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Just by teleporting. Now therapy. There are people, with
disabilities, who are actually using Virtual Worlds, and Second Life in particular, to actually
get some therapy. What can you tell us about that?
ALICE KRUEGER: Well, I need to distinguish between peer support and therapy because
therapy is a professional thing that cannot be offered by peers. There is published medical
research, which is summarized on the Virtual Ability website, that shows, for example, that
people with mobility disabilities moving an avatar through a rich three-dimensional
environment actually improves spatial visualization. And there’s a really interesting research
project with a profession from the University of Boulder, in Colorado, that has a person in
real life using a Nordic Track, so a ski machine, to exercise muscles, and that’s connected
to his ski area on his Second Life Sim. And so that visualization helps people to feel
motivated by their therapy and to get a sense of what their muscles are doing.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You mentioned to me, when we talked a couple weeks ago, that
simply navigating an avatar through a 3D space, the way we all do in Second Life, can
actually help the spatial skills of the mobility impaired.
ALICE KRUEGER: Right. And the research is actually on people with multiple sclerosis, like
myself. I am very clumsy when I walk in Second Life, but it has definitely improved my
posture in real life. I am not able in real life to stand unaided. I have to use crutches, but, in
Second Life, my avatar has a very good posture, and so it helps me when I’m sitting and
standing in real life to think about what my avatar does in Second Life.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I guess the fourth category of reasons I had on my list anyway for
people with disabilities to come into Second Life is entertainment. And I guess the most
famous that I know of is the Wheelies NightClub. So I’m wondering if you could just tell us a
little about that.
ALICE KRUEGER: Oh, sure. The owner of Wheelies is here in the audience today,
Polgara Paine. Wheelies is a nightclub. It was started by Simon Walsh, and Simon is a
young man from UK, who has cerebral palsy, and he determined that a good thing to have
in Second Life would be a social venue where people with disabilities could mix with people
who didn’t have disabilities, and all just have fun.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have a bunch of questions that I’d like to turn to and one that
just popped up from Bluewave Ogee. She is asking for the name of that researcher in
Colorado that you mentioned. Did you happen to know?
ALICE KRUEGER: Sure. In Second Life, his avatar name is ThreeDee, spelled out:
T H R E E D E E Shepherd. And he’s actually a retired professor.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Joia Sands has a question: How long do you find it takes
new disabled members to adapt and orient to Second Life? And what tips can you give us
for helping friends and relatives with disabilities enter Second Life successfully? And let me
say you’re allowed to make the shameless, self-promoting plug and say that they should
come in through Virtual Ability.
ALICE KRUEGER: Well, thank you. I won’t have to make it. You already have. Tell me the
first question again. I have short-term memory loss.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, it’s basically about how long does it take for people to get
ALICE KRUEGER: How long? Okay. Great. Our community gateway orientation is built for
people who are English speakers and readers and who have assistive technology that
functions for them. We have made that work in about an hour to teach six basic skills that
we think will enable people to function reasonably normally in Second Life, after some
practice. We chose an hour for the length of our training for newcomers because that’s a
fatigue limit for a lot of our population. We’ve also made it modular so that people can stop
and start as they wish during that hour or as they need to, as their fatigue level increases or
their pain increases. And now you’ll have to remind me of the second part of the question
because I can’t--
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: The second part is the shameless plug part, that I gave before, “
What can people do to make it easier for friends and family with disabilities?” But in addition,
on top of sending them to Virtual Ability, do you have any advice?
ALICE KRUEGER: Certainly. You would want, of course, for them to check the personal
specifications on our website. You can sign in through the virtualability.org website, and
you’ll see a page there that says, “Join Second Life.” And, before you get to the part where
you start your account and create your avatar, there’s a page that lists those abilities that
you personally have to have natively or through using your assistive technology, that those
things you have to be able to do or you won’t have a successful experience in Second Life.
We do have a way to contact us through the website, and people do talk to us and say, “I
don’t have those capabilities.” And we will help them through RESNA, through the assistive
technology practitioners, find people who can either help them with their assistive
technology or help them get assistive technology so that they’re capable of accessing
Second Life and other Virtual Worlds.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: There are a number of questions on various mental disabilities
and, in particular, Hydra Shaftoe is wondering if you have any commentary on why people
with various forms of autism function so much better in Virtual Worlds than they often can in
the Real World.
ALICE KRUEGER: To use educationese, it’s a much less restrictive environment in Second
Life than in real life, and there are several reasons for that. People on the autism spectrum
have difficulty understanding and interpreting some of the parts of communication that are
involved in the Real World. People who are not on the spectrum look at facial expressions,
look at body language. You notice that my avatar is being animated by a program from
Metanomics so that it has body language, and that’s part of the communication. That is
generally removed in an avatar in Second Life. You kind of look like an expressionless
plastic doll. And so a person with an autism spectrum disorder can focus on the text, and
that helps take out that extraneous and confusing and upsetting pieces of communication
that are in the Real World.
The other thing that text chatting allows a person with autism is it makes them think about
their reply, and that’s been very helpful for a number of people. There are research projects
that are looking at ways to use Virtual Worlds, like Second Life, to help people with autism
learn to communicate better in the Real World.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s see. I’m just looking through the questions. We’re
almost out of time. I would like to report Robby Kowalski, who I guess is a builder, says, “I
usually remember to label my objects, but I pledge to be better now. So thanks for clarifying
the importance of that to us.”
ALICE KRUEGER: Amazing.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And a couple people are hoping you will come back soon. I guess
I would include myself along with that.
ALICE KRUEGER: If you have any questions [CROSSTALK]
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Are there any good points that we have missed, that you’d
like to get across?
ALICE KRUEGER: I would like to say, both personally and in terms of the people that I
represent in Virtual Ability, that being able to socialize with others, those with disabilities like
our own and those that we affectionately call [AUDIO GLITCH] disabled, that socialization is
the most important thing about Second Life. It’s what makes Second Life a much more level
playing field than we experience in real life. So to be able to interact on a more level playing
field, with everybody else, is an extremely powerful feature of Second Life, for those of us
who have to live on an extremely tilted field in our real lives.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you. I should let you just have the last word with that very
heartfelt statement, but I do have one more question that I would like to ask you about,
which is, many Second Life residents present very different identities and personalities for
their avatars and their real lives. And so as I understand it, some people are using Second
Life as a way to present an identity free from disability, while others are actually embracing
those aspects of their identity. I’m wondering if you can just give us some insight into why
people make the choices they do, from, I guess, a social perspective.
ALICE KRUEGER: Certainly. Because that’s a spectrum and this applies to people who
don’t have disabilities, as well as to those of us who do. And the spectrum is quite varied.
We have members in our group whose avatar exactly represents the level of disability that
they have in real life. We have people in our group whose avatar and whose profile do not
reveal anything about their disability. And then I’m sort of in the middle. My avatar is much
younger, much slimmer, much prettier than I am in real life and not at all disabled. But my
disability is clearly revealed in my profile. So that diversity is pretty representative of our
entire population of people with disabilities.
And Louise is pointing out that there’s a cane and a dog that the wearer can use to identify
themselves visually, as being visually impaired, but that same technology can be put into a
ring, and the blind or visually impaired user could wear the ring and function in Second Life,
and nobody would know that they were visually impaired.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, thank you, Alice Krueger, Gentle Heron in Second Life, for
joining us on Metanomics and really just giving us a fascinating insight into the challenges
and the opportunities confronting people with disabilities as they move into the Metaverse.
So, Alice, thanks a lot for joining us.
ALICE KRUEGER: Thank you very much for having me today.
ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: For those of you who enjoyed today’s topics, there are a number
of past shows that you might find particularly relevant. We had Engaging Virtual
Communities which looked at the Public Good Community Challenge, and Doug Thomas,
from the USC School of Communication, and Rik Panganiban, from Global Kids. Another
show on nonprofits with Susan Tenby, senior manager of TechSoup. And also you can get
more detail on the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in a discussion with
Randal Moss, who was one of the major organizers within ACS for that.
For those of you who are particularly interested in the research on the psychological effects
of interacting in Virtual Worlds, take a look at a show with researcher Nick Yee, of the Palo
Alto Research Center. We talked about how people put on avatars--for example he
presented evidence on whether taking on an avatar of an old person actually makes you
less susceptible to ageism. So that was a fascinating show, for me, the academic. And then
also a related show I would just suggest taking a look at Who Plays, which was an interview
with Dmitri Williams, also of USC, who has a tremendous database indicating who are
playing massively multi-player online games, and he talks about some of his research on
I’d also like to just mention very briefly, from the backchat I see this line from
Chimera Cosmos, “Journalists should write this story, instead of the ‘Second Life is dead’
junk. Sheesh!” And I have been following in the backchat that Valleywag has written yet
another “Second Life is dead” article which seems to be taking its evidence from the fact
some brands moved out several years ago and a couple news organizations have decided
they are not going to follow every hiccup of Second Life and try to put it on a writer’s Second
Life and the like. And I’d just like to second Chimera’s thought. I read an article like that, and
then I talk with people like Alice and Fay today, to see just in one tiny segment what
nonprofits are doing in Second Life, and I think maybe I’ll give Valleywag an email sometime
We always close Metanomics with an opinion piece called Connecting The Dots. My topic
today connects two ideas. The first is that, as Virtual Ability’s Alice Krueger said today,
Virtual Worlds level the playing field for people with disabilities. Not completely, but enough
to make an important different.
The second idea, which we haven’t talked about today, is that a theoretical framework is a
powerful tool for helping us identify fundamental differences while ignoring the superficial
ones. For example, once we have a theory for understanding the economic principles
behind supply and demand for consumer goods, we can say things like, “Washing machines
are like nuts, but newspapers are like fresh bread.” Now why is that? Because nuts and
washing machines both last a fairly long time, while newspapers are as perishable as fresh
bread. They aren’t worth much the next day.
So if you’re looking at the dynamics of production and consumption of these items, durability
and perishability are important differences. But the fact that something is edible or not is just
superficial. So you’re probably wondering what’s my message today. As one of the not yet
disabled, as Alice put it, I know that my community treats the currently disabled as special.
But Virtual Worlds don’t just level the playing field. In the theoretical framework that I use to
structure these interviews, which is to focus on the challenges and opportunities that Virtual
Worlds present, I see almost no difference between today’s topic and our previous
65 interviews. And, yes, you heard me right: 65.
Let’s start with opportunities. Whether you live in Colorado, with multiple sclerosis, like
Alice Krueger, or you live in London, working at an ad agency, like K Zero’s Nic Mitham,
Virtual Worlds provide you with opportunities to do things you couldn’t pursue as effectively
in the Real World with another technology. All in all, the opportunities the disabled are
pursuing just don’t seem that different to me--entertainment, information, engagement with
global communities, sharing similar interests--these are goals we talk about almost every
week. So over 65 weeks, the opportunities Virtual Worlds provide to people with disabilities
seem rather mundane.
Now how about challenges? Naturally. We spent a good deal of today’s show talking about
challenges, but again, how is that different from any other interview we’ve had? Every
organization I’ve ever covered on Metanomics has had its share of challenges. Many of
them are technological. The blind may need a better guide dog, but marketers need better
data tools. Experimental researchers need better laboratories. Enterprises need better
security. And, everyone needs better web integration and stability. Some of the challenges
involve business strategy in practice, like how can in-world businesses charge for live
entertainment, without alienating their devoted fan? How can serious enterprises maintain
their reputations in an open Second Life community that often embraces behavior that
would be inappropriate for professional settings?
But, how are these different from the challenges facing Virtual Ability as an organization or
the individuals they’re trying to serve? Now many of the challenges are personal. I can’t
speak to the personal challenges facing those with disabilities, but I do know that we all face
challenges in Virtual Worlds, of maintaining virtual relationships with people we’ve never
met, multi-tasking with constant interruptions, and, in some cases, dealing with multiple
identities. Now, I’m not saying that people’s physical, emotional and social abilities are
irrelevant. Disabilities obviously present their own specific challenges and force people to
pursue opportunities and confront challenges that are uniquely appropriate to their situation.
But I could say the same thing about Arlene Ciroula, Chili Carson, who has set up an
accounting practice in Second Life, to assist Second Life businesses, with accounting,
consulting and taxes. Arlene has her own specific opportunities and her own specific
challenges. That’s why we’ve had 65 shows, not just one.
My bottom line: I found this week’s event to be fascinating, personally quite moving, a
wonderfully distinct illustration of what Virtual Worlds can mean to yet another community,
and a rather humbling demonstration of just how far this technology has to go before it can
truly be said to be integrated into our existing society. But, when we look at Virtual Worlds in
the terms of the opportunities they provide and the challenges that confront us, there isn’t
actually anything so special this week. After all, that’s the type of discussion we try to bring
our community every week.
So with that said, join us next week for Metanomics. We will be talking with two cultural
anthropologists Tom Boellstorff and Celia Pearce. We’re going to follow that up with a
discussion with Beth Noveck, a transition team member from the Obama Administration.
And, on March 23rd, we have Second Life CEO Mark Kingdon. I’m sure they will all be
fascinating discussions about the opportunities and challenges of Virtual Worlds, and I look
forward to seeing you next week. Bye bye.
Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com
Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer