Fairer Scotland

Social Innovation for Hidden Disabilities

August 15, 2017 by 2 Comments

Many thanks Glyn Morris from Friendly Access who has provided our first guest blog:

I have always said “we all know that whilst an impairment cannot necessarily be changed, the​ ​environment often can, making the environment the disabling factor”.  It’s for this reason Friendly Access was established to holistically address and improve accessibility across Scotland, regardless of disability or condition.

Our statement strikes a chord in many situations. However, there are variables within any environment which are beyond our control.  These can be unexpected sensory experiences which can impact on an individual with debilitating effect.  Many individuals have a threshold when experiencing heightened noisy and crowded situations within environments, and sensory cues can act as barriers, stopping them doing what most may think are everyday activities.

When we venture into new or unfamiliar environments, it can be a stressful experience for most of us. The impact for individuals living with acute and hyper sensory, mental health conditions and heightened anxiety issues is they are placed at an unfair disadvantage compared to their peers in society. This can often lead to isolation and poverty.

Thanks to our successful stage 1 application Dynamic Interactive Navigation for Familiarisation and Desensitisation, funded by the European Social Fund and The Scottish Government’s Social Innovation Fund, we have joined forces with experts in Virtual Reality in the School of Simulation and Visualisation (SimVis) at The Glasgow School of Art and tech start up, Crag3D to create an innovative product to help support individuals living with disabilities and conditions.

The team will harness the potential of Virtual Reality (VR) to create an interactive and immersive experience to support people living with hidden disabilities such as autism, learning disabilities and mental health conditions. Four years have passed since Friendly Access was created and for technology to have finally caught up with our vision. It has been a truly exciting time in waiting.  To see it now developing, with what can only be described as an inspiring team of passionate and driven individuals, well, it is simply way beyond exciting.

At the centre of our ‘Proof of Concept’ academic study, Friendly Access has partnered with Aberdeen International Airport (AIA). AIA have seen very positive, even viral social media feeds from visitor experiences and press reports as far as Asia. AIA is a complex, yet perfect environment for us to use to base our study and continued development. However, we aren’t just starting and finishing with an airport environment and have already made tracks to cater for other scenarios.

The Glasgow School of Art is a celebrated centre of creativity and innovation with SimVis in the forefront of 3D digital research and application. Collaborating with partners across the public and commercial sectors SimVis is delivering a range of projects and products that are making tangible differences to people’s lives.

“The application of digital and virtual technology to help address real life issues is a central part of the work at SimVis,” says Dr Matthieu Poyade, Research Fellow at GSA, SimVis.  “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Friendly Access and Crag3D on this project which we hope will be a life changer for people who are living with the greatest degree of discrimination and isolation. Our aspiration is that it will enable them to become more confident individuals and contributors in society.”

“When I spoke with Friendly Access late last year about the latest digital 3D technologies and possibilities of interactive virtual tours, it was a light-bulb moment, our goals merged,” adds Ian Taylor of Crag3D.  “Creating an immersive experience to help individuals become accustomed to an environment which they have previously feared, before they get there. Taking the novelty out of Virtual Reality, we are finding ways to use visualisation technologies to help individuals, our aim is to allow everyone to enjoy the rights to access public spaces. Collaboration with SimVis at The Glasgow School of Art was the icing on the cake.”

Our application will be available free of charge, the only requirement will be smartphone. Versions will also be available for a VR immersive experience using any affordable VR headset. The future for individuals living with hidden disabilities and mental health conditions and the use of technology available, has just notched up a level as we strive towards a more inclusive, more accessible Scotland.


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