Gamification and Enabling Technologies for Independent Living - The Simon Stevens Story

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For generations mankind has conceived, developed and used enabling technologies to both overcome our physical and mental limitations and leverage our ability to manage daily life efficiently and independently and these are especially important for those individuals who are disadvantaged by physical or mental conditions. For those individuals who are disabled, technology plays a vital in not only improving the quality of life but also giving them some control over their world that would otherwise be denied to them. It is important to emphasise the value of the independence from human care that these technologies bring. Being dependent on other human beings for our every need reduces our capacity to grow and develop our capabilities, wellbeing and self-esteem. Being able to meet the challenges of everyday life using our own resources, assisted by technology is a powerful motivator.
Clearly, over recent years, there have been many advances in assistive technologies that can provide individuals with even the severest of disabilities a gateway to a more independent life. This article presents an example of enabling and assistive technologies for making positive changes to lives and features the remarkable story of Simon Stevens, a highly intelligent man whose life has been transformed by his creative use of digital technologies which have empowered him to overcome the challenges posed by his cerebral palsy.

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Gamification and Enabling Technologies for Independent Living - The Simon Stevens Story

  1. 1. Gamification and Enabling Technologies for Independent Living The Simon Stevens Story All human beings are genetically programmed from birth to seek to control their lives by developing an understanding of the world around them and using their senses and physical tools to influence their surroundings. The initial dependence on other human beings for our wellbeing and growth is gradually reduced as we learn to independently manage our daily activities. This learning and development process is an everyday practical example of how gamification processes influence our behaviours, capabilities and responses to situations. For generations mankind has conceived, developed and used enabling technologies to both overcome our physical and mental limitations and leverage our ability to manage daily life efficiently and independently and these are especially important for those individuals who are disadvantaged by physical or mental conditions. For those individuals who are disabled, technology plays a vital in not only improving the quality of life but also giving them some control over their world that would otherwise be denied to them. It is important to emphasise the value of the independence from human care that these technologies bring. Being dependent on other human beings for our every need reduces our capacity to grow and develop our capabilities, wellbeing and self-esteem. Being able to meet the challenges of everyday life using our own resources, assisted by technology is a powerful motivator. Clearly, over recent years, there have been many advances in assistive technologies that can provide individuals with even the severest of disabilities a gateway to a more independent life. This article presents an example of enabling and assistive technologies for making positive changes to lives and features the remarkable story of Simon Stevens, a highly intelligent man whose life has been transformed by his creative use of digital technologies which have empowered him to overcome the challenges posed by his cerebral palsy. Simon Stevens I first encountered Simon around 12 years ago when I was managing a community technology project in the UK. As part of the project, I ran a series of thematic webinars on different ICT related topics. I used my contact network to identify guest presenters for each theme and invited people to send me their presentations to use in the webinars. The webinar on ICT to support disabled people attracted a very articulate email and presentation from Simon Stevens, a young man with cerebral
  2. 2. palsy. Simon was running his own company called Enable Enterprises and his story was so compelling, I had no hesitation in giving him a slot on the webinar. All our interactions took place by email and it wasn’t until the teleconference audio used in the webinar that I heard Simon speak. His cerebral Palsy made his voice very difficult to understand but the lesson I learnt from his contribution was that his outstanding slide design more than compensated for the speech difficulties. I maintained contact with Simon over the years and sent him my monthly newsletters on technology and it was whilst I was working at De Montfort University in 2005 that I included a short piece on Second Life Virtual World. Simon’s natural curiosity and enterprise led him to establish his own virtual night club in Second Life called “Wheelies”. Instinctively, I had expected Simon to create an avatar without disability but his avatar reproduced his own situation and provided opportunities for other people to experience different aspects of his physical world in a virtual environment. Wheelies in Second Life This use of an enabling technology in the hands of a gifted and motivated individual like Simon had a transformative effect on his own life and touched the lives of many others around the world, helping to make Simon an international celebrity. When I became Director of the Serious Games Institute, I invited Simon to become a member of the project team at the SGI and this led to more insights about enabling technologies for disadvantaged people. As a wheelchair user, transport posed difficulties for Simon but there was one project meeting where most of the team could not attend physically because of other commitments so we organised for our project meeting to be held in Second Life. By this time, audio speech interaction was possible in Second Life which, because of Simon’s situation, placed him at a disadvantage with the other project team members so we decided to set a rule that I was the only person allowed to use audio to manage the meeting, everyone else had to use the keyboard to type in text chat.
  3. 3. The SGI Project Meeting in Second Life (Simon in white shirt) Not only was this meeting the most time effective of all our meetings, we also had an automatic record of our conversations in the text chat archives. Simon Stevens Twitter Page
  4. 4. Today, Simon continues to be a pioneer of and evangelist for enabling technologies. His courage, determination and human spirit, coupled with his intelligence have enabled him to overcome many barriers and discriminations in his life He is a living testament to the transformative nature of enabling technologies. Final Reflections The inherent human desire to be in control of our destiny exists in all of us from birth. Today, the technologies available at our fingertips give us unprecedented access to information, products and services and an ability to influence a global audience from anywhere in the world. I believe we have a responsibility to use the power of enabling technologies to enable every human being to fulfil their potential in the way that Simon has done. The opportunity to tackle some of the most pressing problems in business and society is now in our hands with the latest generation of emerging technologies. Let us seize that opportunity.

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