Vestina Petrauskaitė

KITONAS – virtual reality simulation of movement disability for increasing public empathy 

“Kitonas” = “kitas” (other, different) + on (engagement). Today’s society lacks proper empathy skills, therefore, direct communication with physically disabled people often is limited to a one-directional feeling of suffering, while at the same time ignoring the subject’s true emotions which, actually, contain no suffering. Consequentially, this negative emotion induces improper actions based on negative presumptions (a misfortunate and non-self-sufficient person) and, as a result, the society tries to excessively support people with disabilities or avoids them. There is a lack of effort in trying to understand the situation at hand from the perspective of a disabled person. That is why in order to improve to communication between the society and people with disabilities, a solution was found – a VR simulation of movement disability which allows to create a pseudo-relation with a disabled person and gain experiences which could change negative attitude, behavior and the feeling of pity which is present long before the direct contact with a disabled person. By recreating the true physical and emotional experiences of wheelchair users we can help to create proper attitudes (“a happy and self-sufficient person who simply moves in a different way”).

The simulation imitates the control of a wheelchair while moving on a path installed in accordance with proper infrastructure requirements. In order to increase the society’s awareness about unsuitable infrastructure, the user has to notice and remove deficiencies (a narrow entry to WC, uneven tiles, out-of-order elevator, etc.). There simulation also shows  other “kitonai” – disabled persons who help to create an impression of active and friendly society. This creates the effect of integration into the society of people with disabilities thus reversing the current situation where people with disabilities are trying to achieve integration with the modern society.

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