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Using Virtual Reality to Teach Disability Awareness

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Abstract and Figures

A desktop virtual reality (VR) program was designed and evaluated to teach children about the accessibility and attitudinal barriers encountered by their peers with mobility impairments. Within this software, children sitting in a virtual wheelchair experience obstacles such as stairs, narrow doors, objects too high to reach, and attitudinal barriers such as inappropriate comments. Using a collaborative research methodology, 15 youth with mobility impair- ments assisted in developing and beta-testing the software. The effectiveness of the program was then evaluated with 60 children in Grades 4-6 using a controlled pretest/posttest design. The results indicated that the program was effective for increasing children's knowledge of accessibility barriers. Atti- tudes, grade level, familiarity with individuals with a disability, and gender were also investigated.
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University of Ottawa
Nortel Networks
University of Ottawa
A desktop virtual reality (VR) program was designed and evaluated to teach
children about the accessibility and attitudinal barriers encountered by their
peers with mobility impairments. Within this software, children sitting in a
virtual wheelchair experience obstacles such as stairs, narrow doors, objects
too high to reach, and attitudinal barriers such as inappropriate comments.
Using a collaborative research methodology, 15 youth with mobility impair-
ments assisted in developing and beta-testing the software. The effectiveness
of the program was then evaluated with 60 children in Grades 4-6 using a
controlled pretest/posttest design. The results indicated that the program was
effective for increasing children’s knowledge of accessibility barriers. Atti-
tudes, grade level, familiarity with individuals with a disability, and gender
were also investigated.
*This project was funded by Human Resources Development Canada and Nortel Networks. The
authors would like to thank our Disability Awareness Consultants, The Ottawa Children’s Treatment
Centre, The Canadian Paraplegic Association, Jason Odin, and Corpus Christi School, for their
assistance in this project.
2002, Baywood Publishing Co., Inc.
Inclusive education of children with disabilities in public education institutions is
now common in developed countries. In Canada, this means that 373,824 children
with special needs between the ages of 5-14 years, attend regular classes [1].
Inclusive education is considered by most as a positive experience for both
children with and without disabilities, and an important social policy toward
ensuring full participation and accessibility for individuals with disabilities [2].
Theoretically, inclusive education allows children with disabilities the opportunity
for “free and appropriate public education” as determined by the Education of the
Handicapped Act (EHA) in the United States in 1975.
However, in reality, children with disabilities often have to contend with
structural, physical, and attitudinal barriers for the 30 hours per week they spend at
school. Examples of structural barriers include steep ramps, uncut sidewalk curbs,
heavy doors, and one-inch thresholds [3, 4]. Stairs, narrow bathrooms, revolving
doors, and turnstiles have also been reported as impediments which limit access
and inclusion for individuals who use wheelchairs [5]. In addition to structural
barriers, children with disabilities have to manage the physical limitations inherent
to their disability. For example, a child with spina bifida may have to contend
with poor upper extremity function (limiting fine motor skills such as writing),
poor hand-eye coordination, potential neurological deficits, and difficulties with
organizational skills [6].
Perhaps the most difficult type of barrier encountered by children with dis-
abilities is negative attitudes expressed by their peers [7]. Attitudinal barriers
experienced in educational integration such as rejection and stereotyping [8, 9] or
covert and overt bullying [10] can further isolate children with a disability, and
impact on their feelings of social acceptance and self-esteem. Social isolation has
been linked to difficulty with future peer relations [4] and lower academic and
cognitive development [11].
In order to increase social awareness, understanding, and acceptance toward
children with disabilities by their non-disabled peers, disability awareness pro-
grams have been developed. Current methods of disability awareness programs
for school children include: 1) simulating a disability (e.g., sitting in a wheelchair
or wearing a blindfold); 2) providing information about disabilities; 3) live
and video presentations/testimonials by individuals with disabilities; 4) pairing
disabled and non-disabled children together in a buddy system; 5) group dis-
cussions about disability; and, 6) a combination of the above methods [7]. Along
with disability awareness, Roberts and Smith [12] recommend providing chil-
dren without a disability with knowledge and practical skills that assist with
social interactions with their disabled peers. Logic dictates that one of the most
effective ways to impart knowledge about the realities for children with dis-
abilities is to try to simulate the experience of the disability. In other words, to
provide an opportunity where the child without a disability literally experiences
different situations, viewpoints, perceptions, and interactions from the perspective
of a child with a disability.
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Simulation has been the cornerstone of virtual reality (VR), and in fact, the
first uses of VR involved the simulation of military experiences as noted by
Kozak, Hancock, Arthur, and Chrysler [13]. VR is defined as a three-dimensional,
participatory, computer-based simulation which occurs in real time and is often
multi-sensory [14]. In other words, VR responds to the user’s actions, has
real-time 3-D graphics and provides a sense of immersion. There are many
advantages to using VR for simulation. For example, VR provides a safe environ-
ment for practicing a skill, such as learning to cross street intersections [15-17].
Simulations using VR may also be less costly than real-world simulations [18] and
provide the user the opportunity for repetitive practice [19, 20]. Experiences which
are not available in the real world can be simulated in a virtual environment, such
as moving through a cellular structure or visiting historical sites that are presently
non-existent or too far away to be accessible. Past experience has shown us that
children using VR find it very interesting and stimulating, thus motivating the
training experience [21]. Finally, desktop VR can provide a simulation which can
be made widely accessible through dissemination via the Internet.
The purpose of this project was to develop and evaluate a desktop VR program
designed to teach children about the accessibility and attitudinal barriers faced by
children with mobility impairments. Desktop VR utilizes a personal computer,
where the virtual environment is displayed on a conventional computer monitor
and movement within the environment is effected through either a mouse,
keyboard, or joystick. Although less immersive than systems which use head
mounted display units, desktop VR systems have the advantages of being less
expensive, more portable, and easier to use. The developed program, entitled
Barriers: The Awareness Challenge, used desktop VR to simulate the experiences
of a child in a wheelchair, in an environment familiar to most children—an
elementary school. The specific objectives of this project were to examine the
effectiveness of using a disability simulation with virtual reality to: 1) increase
children’s knowledge of accessibility and attitudinal barriers that impact indi-
viduals with disabilities; and 2) promote more positive attitudes toward children
with disabilities.
There were four phases to The Barriers Project. The first was to utilize a
collaborative research methodology, where youth with mobility impairments (our
Disability Awareness Consultants) identified the barriers which would comprise
the content of the software. The second phase was to develop the software, which
involved organizing the barriers into a script or storyboard, building the virtual
environment and then beta-testing it with our consultants. The third phase of the
project involved evaluating the software to examine the impact of the program on
youth without disabilities. The final phase involved disseminating information
about the program and providing free access to the software via the Internet.
Collaborative Software Development
In order to ensure that the software reflected the current status of accessi-
bility and inclusion within an elementary school setting, a collaborative research
methodology was used. Fifteen Disability Awareness Consultants assisted in the
content development and testing of the software. The consultants (aged 9-16
years) attended eight different schools on a full-time basis and had either cerebral
palsy (n= 11) or spina bifida (n= 5). Their mobility impairments ranged from
difficulty walking (on uneven surfaces and/or for long periods of time) to constant
use of an electric wheelchair for independent mobility. The barriers to full
inclusion in their schools and the proposed solutions to these barriers were
identified by these consultants during three focus group meetings. The final list
of barriers and proposed solutions were then prioritized by the focus group
participants, where each person was given seven stickers and was asked to place
one or more of the stickers on the barrier(s) they felt were necessary to include in
the software. The barriers with the greatest number of stickers became the basis for
the script or storyboard of the software program. Using this script, a virtual
elementary school was developed which includes the exterior of a school, an
outside playground, hallways, a classroom, a library, and two washrooms (one
inaccessible). The children using the program are told that they are to travel in a
“virtual wheelchair” and seek out all of the “building” and “bad attitude” barriers
in the school. There are 24 barriers in the program, which include building barriers
such as narrow hallways, crowded classrooms, a ramp that is too steep, a locker
hook which is too high, and inaccessible bathroom fixtures. The attitudinal
barriers include comments from virtual students such as: “Hey, look at the kid in
the wheelchair” or “Ha! Ha! You can’t play here.”
The program presents a gaming style interface with a first person point of view
during navigation through the world. The user moves within the virtual school
using the cursor keys, and can activate events such as opening doors or using the
elevator by pressing the left button of the mouse. Two message areas are used: a
task message area and an information message area. The task messages instructs
the child to complete specific tasks such as performing an action or going to a
specific location. The information message center gives feedback to the child
when barriers are identified. A “wheelchair damage” display is used to encourage
children to be careful as they navigate through the world and is activated when
they bump into walls, objects, or people. As each barrier is correctly identified, the
score is updated. A number of icons (such as a coat, key, and book) are also
displayed. The icons are added and removed as the student completes specific
tasks. At the end of the program, a results section is displayed listing all of
the barriers and each one is labeled as to whether it was found or not during
the program.
The program was developed in VRML 2.0 (Virtual Reality Modeling
Language) using CosmoWorlds. The CosmoPlayer 2.1 plug-in (for Netscape
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Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer) was used as the 3D viewer. The virtual
school that was developed used the scripting capabilities of VRML to control
interactions with the virtual objects and people in the school. Fields, events,
proximity nodes, and collision sensors are used extensively throughout the virtual
world. Each barrier, whether it is structural or attitudinal, is activated by a
proximity node. A number of fields are used to record the state of the world in
relation to the location of the wheelchair and the interactions that have taken place.
The child identifies a structural barrier by moving close to the barrier and clicking
on the “Barrier” button that floats just in front of the virtual wheelchair. For
example, when first entering the world, the user is placed in the parking lot facing
the school (Figure 1).
A proximity node surrounds the front steps that lead up to the school. A
number of fields indicate where the wheelchair is and which barriers have been
found. For the front steps, the “atSidewalkSteps” field is initially “false” and the
“SidewalkStepsIDed” field (which records whether the steps have been iden-
tified as a barrier or not) is set to “false.” If the “Barrier” button is clicked when the
wheelchair is not at any of the barriers, an audio clip is played that indicates
an incorrect choice. When the child navigates closer to the steps, the virtual
wheelchair collides with the proximity node that surrounds the steps. This
collision triggers an event that sets the “atSidewalkSteps” field to “true.” Now if
the “Barrier” button is clicked, a number of events occur: 1) the number of correct
barriers found is incremented; 2) an appropriate message is displayed in the
Figure 1. When first entering the world, the user is placed in the
parking lot facing the school.
information message area (in this case, it informs the child that wheelchairs cannot
go up stairs); 3) the “SidewalkStepsIDed” field is set to “true” which is used in the
results section to indicate which barriers were found and which were not found;
4) the proximity sensor is permanently disabled; and 5) an HTML page that
corresponds to the current running total of the number of barriers found is loaded
in the score frame. If the child navigates out of the proximity node without
identifying the barrier, the value of the “atSidewalkSteps” field is toggled back
to “false.”
Attitudinal barriers are identified by clicking on the “Barrier” button after
hearing an audio “bad attitude” comment. The script works in a manner similar to
the structural barriers, except that an audio node is triggered when a collision with
the corresponding proximity node occurs. For example, when the child enters the
classroom a collision with a proximity node that is located just inside the door is
triggered. This event triggers a sound node to play an audio clip “It’s the kid in the
wheelchair” (said in a nasty, sarcastic tone indicating “a bad attitude”). While the
wheelchair remains in the proximity node, the child can identify the attitudinal
barrier (Figure 2). However, if the child moves further into the classroom, they
will leave the proximity node and will be unable to identify the barrier unless they
move back in (which will re-trigger the playing of the audio clip).
There are three distinct areas of the virtual world: outside the school, inside the
school, and the results section. The transition between the areas is accomplished
by using a touch sensor to trigger an event that uses a switch node to change to the
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Figure 2. While the wheelchair remains in the proximity node,
the child can identify the attitudinal barrier.
next “level.” The touch sensor for the transition from the outside to the inside is the
automatic door opener and the one that triggers the loading of the results is on the
computer in the library. Once you have left an area, you cannot go back. The
switch node is used so that the entire program can be implemented in a single
VRML file that interacts with the HTML frames in which the world is loaded. The
single file was necessary so that the running score for the entire world could be
maintained without the need for applications, CGIs, or servlets running on a
server. This permits schools and other users with slow Internet connections to
download the entire set of files once and then run them locally on their machine
whenever they wish. Six of the Disability Awareness Consultants returned to
the Rehabilitation Sciences Virtual Reality Lab at the University of Ottawa to
beta-test the program for content validity and general usability. Modifications to
the software were made based on their feedback.
Evaluation of the Software
Study Design
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of The Barriers software, a controlled
pretest/posttest design was used. Using random assignment, half of the sample was
given the VR intervention, and the other half received an alternate desktop VR
program, similar in length and based in a school setting, but without disability
awareness information, in order to control for computer practice effects. The
control program entitled “Wheels,” developed by R. J. Cooper & Associates, is an
excellent desktop VR program designed to teach children how to use electric
wheelchairs. Hence, the viewpoint of the control program is also from the first
person perspective at wheelchair height. As well, the control program also simu-
lates wheelchair usage such as orientating oneself properly to enter doorways. The
main difference between the two virtual environments is the presence of barriers
(physical and attitudinal) in the intervention program. The hypotheses were
that children receiving the Barriers Program would, at posttest, have: 1) a greater
knowledge of barriers than the control group; and 2) more positive attitudes
toward peers with a disability compared to the control group.
Sixty youth (aged 9-11 years) participated in the study. All were from a local
urban school and attended either Grade 4 (n= 20), Grade 5 (n= 19), or Grade 6 (n=
21). There were 24 males and 36 females in the sample. Half of the sample (n= 30)
received the Barriers intervention, and the other half received the control program.
Both programs took one-half hour to complete. Each child was tested individually
and completed the program one time.
Two questionnaires were administered to the entire sample one week before and
one week after the VR intervention. The Knowledge Questionnaire consisted of
simply asking all of the children to write out as many “building” and “people”
barriers that they could think of that might impact on children who use wheelchairs
or crutches at school. Barriers were defined as “things which stop a person from
doing what everybody else can do, or cause people to be treated differently
because of a disability.” The building barrier example that was given was
“smooth elevator buttons for people who are blind,” and the people barrier
example given was “someone who has a ‘bad attitude’ toward those who are
different.” Although this questionnaire was not a standardized measure, it was
a simple, effective method for determining the youth’s current knowledge of
accessibility and attitudes within a school setting. For each accurate statement,
the youth received one point.
The attitude measure used was the Children’s Social Distance from Handi-
capped Persons Scale, a scale developed specifically for school settings, which has
shown to be a quick, reliable measure of affective attitudes toward peers with a
disability (r= .78) [22]. Concern over the word “handicapped” was allayed
through conversations with experts in attitude measurement who indicated that the
word “handicapped” is better understood by children than the word “disabled”
(Hazzard; Rosenbaum, personal communications, 1999). An example item of this
measure is, “It would be okay if a handicapped kid sat next to me in class,” to
which the child could respond with “yes,” “maybe yes,” “maybe no,” or “no.”
Scores on this scale range from 0-30, with higher scores indicating more positive
affective attitudes. The children were also asked to indicate whether they knew
someone who was handicapped, to indicate what that handicap was, whether
the person was a friend, an acquaintance or a family member, and finally, how
much they liked this person.
The self-report Knowledge Scale was used to ascertain knowledge of both
building or structural barriers and people or attitude barriers for both groups using
ANOVA’s (group membership × time). Overall knowledge of barriers were
examined by adding both the structural and attitude barriers together. Table 1
describes the building and attitudinal barriers for both groups before and after the
These results indicate that prior to the VR intervention, both the control group
and the intervention group reported similar levels of knowledge within their
school setting, however, following the intervention, the youth in the Barriers group
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reported a significantly greater number of barriers than the control group, F(1,57)
= 5.35, p< .05. When broken down by type (building or attitude barriers), there
was a significant difference in post-reported barriers between the two groups for
the building barriers, F(1,56) = 11.27, p= .001, with the Barriers group reporting
more barriers.
There were no differences between groups for knowledge of attitudinal barriers,
which was not unexpected since only four of the 24 barriers in the program
were “bad attitude” barriers. Gender was also not a significant factor for knowl-
edge of barriers. There was a significant difference for children receiving the
Barriers intervention by grade level on the total barriers reported following the VR
intervention, F(2,57) = 3.26, p < .05, with Grades 5 and 6 showing the greatest
learning curve (see Figure 3).
Attitude and Previous Experience
No differences were found between the two groups or within groups for
affective attitude measured with the Children’s Social Distance from Handicapped
Persons Scale [22]. However, there was a significant difference between males
and females on the post attitude scale, F(1,57) = 4.68, p< .05, with males reporting
higher affective attitudes than females. Previous experience of knowing someone
with a disability has been shown to impact on attitude scores. In this study, neither
knowledge nor attitude scores showed differences for children who: 1) knew
someone with a disability; 2) the type of disability of that person; 3) whether that
person was a friend, an acquaintance or a family member; or, 4) how much they
liked that person. Interestingly, 54 of the 60 children reported they knew someone
with a disability.
Table 1. Mean (Std) Knowledge Scores Before and After VR Intervention
Group Before After
2.9 (1.9)
2.2 (1.8)
5.2 (3.3)
2.5 (1.7)
2.5 (1.4)
5.0 (2.7)
6.4 (3.9)
3.2 (2.6)
9.6 (6.0)
3.4 (2.6)
2.9 (2.1)
6.4 (4.2)
Based on the results of this study, Barriers: The Awareness Challenge software
was effective for increasing the knowledge of barriers within a familiar setting for
children in Grades 4, 5, and 6. Building barriers were remembered most often, with
Grades 5 and 6 showing the greatest change. It is unclear whether the older
children remembered more of the program at the posttest or whether their greater
change scores reflected previous findings that older children are more knowl-
edgeable about disabilities [22] and are more accepting of their peers with a
disability [23]. Regardless, sensitizing individuals to the difficulties associated
with accessibility in public buildings remains an important component to
disability awareness promotion. Rowley-Kelly provides an excellent checklist of
potential accessibility barriers that school administrators can use to evaluate their
structural resources for all different types of disabilities [24]. Examples include
the need for wider aisles for access by people who use wheelchairs, tactile
markings for individuals with visual impairments, flashing lights for fire alarms
for individuals who are hearing impaired, and pictorial signage for those who
have difficulty reading.
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Figure 3. Pre- and post-knowledge of barriers by grade
for intervention group.
Although it has been 25 years since the precedent setting Education of Handi-
capped Act, our children’s schools are still riddled with accessibility barriers that
serve to further isolate them from full participation and inclusion. More resources
need to be allocated to improve accessibility in schools and attention paid to
making adjustments to existing provisions [25, 26]. Another recommendation for
school resource allocation that arose from the focus groups with our Disability
Awareness Consultants was the necessity for ensuring that teachers and support
staff have disability awareness training. This suggestion has been reinforced in the
literature, and specifically recommends that teachers be provided with training,
sufficient materials and on-site assistance [27, 28].
The lack of differences in attitude scores between the control and experimental
groups was in all likelihood a function of the very high attitude scores of all the
students participating in the study. On both the pretest and posttest scores, both
groups had attitude scores just under 90 percent, thus, either the measure was not
sensitive enough and/or a ceiling effect occurred. Other factors which have been
shown to impact on the effectiveness of disability awareness programs include
gender, where females report more positive attitudes, and familiarity, where
knowing someone with a disability positively influences knowledge of and atti-
tudes toward persons with disabilities [29]. In our study, gender did not differen-
tiate the two groups on knowledge of barriers or attitude before the VR inter-
vention, however, males did report a significantly higher posttest attitude score.
This result is inconsistent with the literature [30, 31]. One possible explanation is
that males were more familiar with the interactive gaming aspect of the VR
program, as indicated by their higher game scores during the program (M= 16.5,
S.D. = 4.56) vs. females (M= 14.39, S.D. = 3.57). This gaming familiarity may
have allowed the males to focus on the educational material being presented vs.
manoeuverability and orientation.
Regarding familiarity with disability issues, the high attitude scores were most
likely influenced by the great number of children in the study who knew someone
with a disability [29], in this case, 90 percent of the total sample. As such,
knowledge and attitude scores showed no differences for children who knew
someone with a disability, the type of disability of that person, whether that person
was a friend, acquaintance or family member, or how much they liked them.
However, in evaluating the effectiveness of the software, even though most of the
study sample knew someone with a disability, and, as a group had very positive
attitudes, they were still able to learn about accessibility barriers. This is important
since increased knowledge about disabilities is believed to be necessary for
creating a lasting influence on positive attitudes [32].
The authors realize that no simulation program will ever be able to truly
describe the experiences and perceptions associated with having a disability. The
concern expressed by French is that simulation programs trivialize the cumulative
social and psychological effects of a disability, and that they do not address the
environmental and social barriers associated with a disability [33]. On the other
hand, a lack of knowledge and understanding about issues related to disability has
been shown to lead to discrimination and isolation in schools [8, 24]. The Barriers
Project was designed with these concerns and issues in mind. The collaboration of
youth with disabilities in the design of the program provided assurances of content
validity, as well as support for the concept of using VR to impart knowledge
to their peers. As well, the focus of the program is not based on simulating a
sense of the physical limitations associated with a disability, but rather on the
environmental and social barriers encountered by persons with a disability.
Utilizing the social-political model of disability, the Barriers Project revolved
around the impact of the environment (both physical and social) on the experi-
ences of a person using a wheelchair [2]. Every effort was made to accurately
design a program that simulates maneuverability in a wheelchair in order to
highlight structural barriers such as narrow aisles, doorways, washroom stalls, and
crowded classrooms. Although this provided a sense of frustration for the children
tested on the program, it served to provide a sense of environmental constraints as
well as to highlight the capabilities of their peers who use a wheelchair.
The program also attempted to provide facilitated learning by using a problem-
solving approach. In designing an environment which required active exploration
for solutions, we anticipated that the children would remember more barriers; a
recommendation suggested by previous researchers [34-36]. However, during
the beta-testing phase, when the entire VR school was open to exploration, we
found that the children missed many areas important to the learning objective.
It appeared that in providing a totally unstructured environment, the children
focused on exploration vs. barrier identification. Thus, the program was modified
to be semi-structured (i.e., where the children were directed to different areas, such
as the library, where they could search and identify the barriers specific to that
location). Overall, this was found to be an effective strategy based on the results
and the anecdotal comments reported by the students testing the program. The
anecdotal comments included that: 1) it gave them a better understanding of the
accessibility barriers that are all around them which they had not previously
noticed; 2) “bad attitudes” are just as difficult, if not more difficult than building
barriers; 3) the VR program was good at simulating maneuverability in a wheel-
chair and could be extremely frustrating at times; 4) they had a new appreciation of
the capabilities of people who use wheelchairs, and 5) the program was very
motivating and that they were interested in trying it again.
Limitations and Recommendations
The most obvious limitation of this study is the lack of effect of attitudinal
change. This was probably due to positive attitudes of the students toward peers
with a disability before the intervention as well as the relatively few attitudinal
barriers in the program. The school that agreed to be in the study is one of eight
schools out of 128 that is identified as “accessible” in the school board. From a
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structural point of view however, the school had all of the accessibility barriers
that were identified in the program. As part of the “accessible distinction,” it is
likely that there is a greater incidence of children with disabilities in this school
(however, there were no children in the three classes tested who used wheelchairs
or crutches) and thus, greater disability awareness. For future studies, we would
recommend controlling for place effects by testing the program in settings with
and without previous awareness and sensitivity training.
Another likely influence that impacted on attitudinal scores was the small
percentage of attitudinal barriers presented in the program (four of twenty-four).
Poor attitudes were depicted as nasty or sarcastic comments by virtual students.
The use of these students or avatars in the program use up a considerable amount of
memory which in turn slows down the program. For ease of use, we decided to
include as few avatars as possible. However, as both the hardware and software
capabilities improve in the future, more avatars can be used to depict attitudinal
barriers. The content of the attitudinal barriers also posed difficulties. Many of the
statements that our Disability Awareness Consultants proposed (such as the word
“crip”) were not included for fear of promoting or teaching negative attitudes. For
that reason, this program could serve as a jump start for discussing negative
attitudes toward people who are different.
VR was chosen as a teaching medium for a number of reasons: 1) it provided
first person simulation effects; 2) allowed us to control the environment (e.g.,
define and place barriers where we chose); 3) is accessible to many individuals if
distributed over the Internet; and 4) has shown to be an enjoyable experience for
children. However, since this is the first VR program which provides disability
awareness, we would recommend future studies compare it to traditional forms of
disability awareness training such as real world wheelchair simulation, presen-
tations, testimonials, and videos.
As well, since this project is the first of its kind to use VR to promote disability
awareness, in this case for mobility impairments, it would be interesting to develop
and test the effectiveness of VR for simulating other types of disabilities. It would
also be interesting to give the user the opportunity to make modifications within
the virtual environment that would erase barriers. For example, the user could
widen aisles or lower drinking fountains in order to make them more accessible.
Even in a school whose students had very positive attitudes about peers with
disabilities, they were still able to learn about structural barriers in their environ-
ment which negatively impacts on the lives of individuals with disabilities.
Hence, Barriers: The Awareness Challenge was considered successful in teach-
ing about the environmental conditions faced by individuals with mobility
limitations and thus was made available free of charge via the Internet at
http:/ We hope that along with children utilizing
the program, teachers, staff, and parents also try the software. Along with
raising awareness about structural and attitudinal barriers, we hope this pro-
gram will serve to initiate further discussions about disabilities, highlight how
environmental constraints and attitudes impact society’s views toward their
members with a disability, and provide a forum that emphasizes the capabilities
of individuals who have disabilities.
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Direct reprint requests to:
Dr. Jayne Pivik
School of Rehabilitation Sciences
University of Ottawa
451 Smyth Road
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1H 8M5
218 / PIVIK ET AL.
... Disability simulation (DS) is a commonly-used approach to provide people without disabilities with experiences in situations that are designed to simulate what it is like to have a disability [9]. DS has been reported to successfully enable users to have more knowledge of disabilities, and to change attitudes towards disabled people [10], [11]. ...
... Disability Simulation (DS) has been used to teach about web accessibility [10], [28], with users' attitudes towards disabilities reportedly changing as a result: Silverman reported that, after implementing DS, participants had more knowledge of how people with disabilities lived their lives [28]. It is possible to simulate different kinds of disabilities, and, theoretically, change participants' attitudes towards these disabilities. ...
... Researchers have also designed DS with VR applications. Pivik et al. [10] built a VR application for participants to learn disability awareness -"educating people regarding disabilities and giving people the knowledge required to carry out a job or task thus separating good practice from poor practice" [11]. The VR application built by Pivik et al. mainly focused on experiencing wheelchair use. ...
Conference Paper
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Awareness of web accessibility issues is necessary for, amongst other things, good website design. Good website design can mean the difference between disabled users being able to access the website content, or not. This paper describes the impact of a student-led project to develop a VR application, as an Open Education Resource (OER), to increase users' knowledge and awareness of accessibility. An evaluation for the intervention delivered by the VR application was conducted, according to which, the VR application generally increased knowledge and awareness of web accessibility, but also had a negative impact on some users. The project targetted a Human Computer Interaction (HCI) class taught at the first Sino-foreign higher education institution , University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC). UNNC has already been involved in research into flipped classrooms, technology-enhanced teaching, and the development of several OERs. This paper introduces the background, motivation and objectives, design, and specification of the VR application. The impact of the application on users is evaluated, and some possible future work is discussed.
... The effect of virtual reality in patients with cognitive problems and dementia shows that the use of virtual reality to help cognitive problems and people with dementia has been effective [47]. In cases of amputation and when a person is waiting to receive a hand or foot prosthesis, practicing with virtual reality before receiving an artificial limb helps the patient to be motivated and to prevent muscle wasting and reduced mobility [48]. Expressed in MS patients with driving problems and accidents of these people and the use of simulation of VR technology (VR) in reducing accidents and traffic violations, the results show that comprehensive assessments of driving, before a serious traffic accident or accident using It is effective in reducing the amount of injuries from the driving simulator [49]. ...
... Other studies allowed users to take the perspective of other groups, such as the elderly (Yee and Bailenson, 2006), children in wheelchairs (Pivik et al., 2002), homeless people (Herrera et al., 2018), and people who experience schizophrenia (Kalyanaraman et al., 2010). Researchers reported that participants could reduce negative stereotypes about certain groups by experiencing others' perspectives and increase empathy and positive perception. ...
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This research explores augmented perception by investigating the effects of spatial scale manipulation in Virtual Reality (VR) to simulate multiple levels of virtual eye height (EH) and virtual interpupillary distance (IPD) of the VR users in the design context. We have developed a multiscale VR system for design applications, which supports a dynamic scaling of the VR user’s EH and IPD to simulate different perspectives of multiple user’s groups such as children or persons with disabilities. We strongly believe that VR can improve the empathy of VR users toward the individual sharing or simulating the experience. We conducted a user study comprising two within-subjects designed experiments for design-related tasks with seventeen participants who took on a designer’s role. In the first experiment, the participants performed hazards identification and risks assessment tasks in a virtual environment (VE) while experiencing four different end-user perspectives: a two-year-old child, an eight-year-old child, an adult, and an adult in a wheelchair. We hypothesized that experiencing different perspectives would lead to different design outcomes and found significant differences in the perceived level of risks, the number of identified hazards, and the average height of hazards found. The second experiment had the participants scale six virtual chairs to a suitable scale for different target end-user groups. The participants experienced three perspectives: a two-year-old child, an eight-year-old child, and an adult. We found that when the designer’s perspective matched that of the intended end-user of the product, it yielded significantly lower variance among the designs across participants and more precise scales suitable for the end-user. We also found that the EH and IPD positively correlate with the resulting scales. The key contribution of this work is the evidence to support that spatial scale manipulation of EH and IPD could be a critical tool in the design process to improve the designer’s empathy by allowing them to experience the end-user perspectives. This could influence their design, making a safer or functionally suitable design for various end-user groups with different needs.
... Awareness of inclusive design practices has encouraged designers to explore various ways to understand the perspectives of such diverse user groups -particularly the older adult users and users who experience physical challenges (Cardoso & Clarkson, 2012;Raviselvam et al., 2016b). The use of simulation tools such as AGNES and GERT have proven effective by design practitioners (Cardoso & Clarkson, 2012;Kamikubo et al., 2018), and as an educational approach to teaching design students about need-finding (Pivik et al., 2002). Nevertheless, disability simulations have been criticized due to their focus on what it would be like to newly acquire a disability without accounting for coping mechanisms learned through life experiences (Bennett & Rosner, 2019;Colwell, 2013;French, 1992;Kamikubo et al., 2018;Kiger, 1992;Nario-Redmond et al., 2017). ...
Full-text available
Extreme-user experiences have a unique potential to enhance designer creativity by altering one’s perception of their own designs. This shift in perception is achieved by incorporating the perspectives of extreme-users who experience the latent unmet needs among the rest of the population and have the potential to inspire design professionals. Works in the past have observed this potential (as the extreme-users) among the older adult users and users with reduced physical or cognitive abilities for the products, services, or systems (PSSs) that primarily target the mainstream general population users. While simulated experiences that emulate reduced physical and cognitive abilities are adopted to improve designers’ understanding of the needs among such extreme-users, they are seldom applied beyond the realms of assistive and inclusive design solutions, especially as a tool for design creativity. Therefore, there is an opportunity to advance creativity in mainstream PSSs design by systemic adoption of extreme-user experiences. In this thesis, we empirically test the underpinnings of extreme-user experiences and simulated extreme-user experiences for design creativity. We also analyse the necessity and impact of a systematic guided approach using extreme-user inspired design methods that inform designers of the experiences that would enhance the usability of their PSSs design. We finally present a framework that proposes four stages that one could adopt to design with extreme-user experiences. Additionally, we discuss the interactions between the Design Innovation (DI) process model and the proposed Extreme-user Experience Design Framework with which we aim to stretch the frontiers of the mainstream design process.
... Previous research has successfully used VR in raising disability awareness. For example, VR was very effective in teaching children with and without disabilities about accessibility and attitudinal barriers [36]. However, it is unclear how interactions with a virtual avatar with a disability affect people's implicit bias towards people who use wheelchairs. ...
Full-text available
This research investigates how experiencing virtual embodiment in a wheelchair affects implicit bias towards people who use wheelchairs. We also investigate how receiving information from a virtual instructor who uses a wheelchair affects implicit bias towards people who use wheelchairs. Implicit biases are actions or judgments of people towards various concepts or stereotypes (e.g., races). We hypothesized that experiencing a Disability Simulation (DS) through an avatar in a wheelchair and receiving information from an instructor with a disability will have a significant effect on participants' ability to recall disability-related information and will reduce implicit biases towards people who use wheelchairs. To investigate this hypothesis, a 2x2 between-subjects user study was conducted where participants experienced an immersive VR DS that presents information about Multiple Sclerosis (MS) with factors of instructor (i.e., instructor with a disability vs instructor without a disability) and locomotion interface (i.e., without a disability -- locomotion through in-place-walking, with a disability -- locomotion in a wheelchair). Participants took a disability-focused Implicit Association Test two times, once before and once after experiencing the DS. They also took a test of knowledge retention about MS. The primary result is: experiencing the DS through locomotion in a wheelchair was better for both the disability-related information recall task and reducing implicit bias towards people who use wheelchairs.
... 724). A few studies also found that there was little difference in levels of empathy for persons with disability among participants of experiential learning curricula (Cahan et al., 2010;Pivik, McComas, MaCfarlane, & Laflamme, 2002). ...
This study assessed the effectiveness of a learning module we developed for planning students aimed to enhance their understanding for design issues in public spaces faced by wheelchair users. The module involves training of students to effectively navigate the environment in a wheelchair before they experience the real outdoor spaces. Through this evaluation study, we also attempted to add clarity to the problems observed from empirical studies about these ‘try-it-yourself’ exercises, such as potential stigmatisation and ableism. We employed a mixed-method study approach consisting of wheelchair skill tests, ‘walkabout’ audits, and a focus group, with 28 second-year undergraduate urban planning students. The cross-over design of the study involving two components of the module – (wheelchair) Skill Learning Experience (SLE) and Real-World Experience (RWE) – allowed us to assess the effect of the former on the performance of the latter and the module overall. The focus group also asked students’ perspectives about the module. Our findings suggest that the wheelchair skills training component likely contributed to a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of design problems, while also fostering respect for wheelchair users. We believe that careful implementation is key to addressing potential negative consequences while optimising the benefit of experiential exercises.
... The use of simulation tools such as AGNES and GERT have proven effective by design practitioners [3], [8] and as an educational approach to teaching design students about need-finding [9]. Nevertheless, disability simulations have been criticized due to their focus on what it would be like to newly acquire a disability without accounting for coping mechanisms learned through life experiences [10]- [13], [8], [14]. ...
Full-text available
Disability has been redefined by the World Health Organization as a function of a person’s interaction with the environment and not merely an innate part of a person. This redefinition highlights the need for inclusiveness in design solutions. To aid this, we apply and test the potential of different tools that restrict designers’ physical abilities at deriving inclusive design perspectives among designers. Various tools and simulated conditions are often adopted in user-centered design to sup-port need-finding by eliciting rich data on users’ needs and guide designers to empathize with users. Simulation tools that restrict designers’ physical abilities have been applied to understand certain perspectives of people with physical challenges, yet these tools lack the ability to evoke an inclusive design perspective among designers. Through a co-creation workshop, participants were exposed to two forms of simulations: direct and situational physical impairments. This was achieved using different tools that simulate the same physical restriction. In this study, a noise- canceller and earphones were used to simulate a reduced hearing attention. Participants were asked to generate user needs and design functions by applying both the simulation tools. The study results comprise the outcomes of 33 participants who volunteered to participate in a co-design workshop that provided a venue for them to interact and work alongside users with physical challenges. This paper analyses the inclusiveness attained through different types of simulated conditions. With a growing need to create tools and technologies that delight the user, it is necessary to equip designers with the tools that would help them with the process. The study demonstrates the application and impact of one such tool.
The present study aimed to evaluate the quantitative and qualitative effectiveness of an undergraduate course entitled, ‘What is disability?’ Specifically, we measured changes in perceptions of Japanese freshmen towards people with disabilities (PWDs) using the Disability Social Work scale, and what they learned from the course. In total, 18 freshmen university students (8 females, 10 males; mean age, 18.5 years; age range, 18 to 21 years) collectively majoring in literature, education, medicine, law, economics, engineering, and pharmacology registered for the course. Pre- and post-tests showed significant improvements in the participants’ perceptions of disability rejection, psychological distance from disability, and the idea that PWDs are incapable of managing tasks. A qualitative analysis yielded two conceptual categories, changed perceptions towards disability and PWDs and gaining new perspectives on disability and PWDs. The first category consists of three subcategories (trivialising disability, increasing psychological proximity towards disability, and ‘do PWDs really want our support?’) and the second category consists of two subcategories (recognising dichotomy of difficulty and capability in disability and recognising his/her own ableism).
Full-text available
Children's expressed attitudes toward handicapped peers are related to many factors In this review the authors assess recent literature and present data from their own studies concerning the role of gender, age, parental attitudes, volunteering, familiarity with a disabled person, and the physical structure of schools as determinants of attitudes The importance of understanding these determinants is discussed.
This experiment compared the value of real-world training, virtual reality training, and no training in the transfer of learning to the same task performed in real-world conditions. Results provide no evidence of transfer from a virtual reality training environment to a real-world task. There was no significant difference between the virtual reality training group and the group that received no training on the task. The group that received real-world training performed significantly better than both of the other two groups. The results question the utility of virtual training and suggest that in the present configuration, individuals learn performance characteristics specific only to the virtual reality context. Needed improvements to virtual reality for the purpose of enabling the transfer of training are indicated.
Measures to assess children's knowledge about and affective attitudes toward disabled persons were developed and administered to 367 elementary school children. Children's knowledge increased with age but was unrelated to sex or previous experience with disabled persons. In contrast, children's social-distance ratings were 'This study was part of the author's doctoral dissertation and was funded by a grant from the American Institutes for Research. unrelated to age but did vary with previous experience and sex. Children with more experience and girls expressed greater willingness to interact with disabled peers. The potential usefulness of the knowledge and social-distance scales as outcome measures for disability-awareness programs is discussed.
Attitudes of nonhandicapped peers are crucial to the successful integration (mainstreaming) of handicapped students into regular or main school classrooms. Research has consistently shown that nonhandicapped students are not widely accepting of their handicapped classmates. Several intervention programmes aimed at the modification of negative attitudes are reported in the literature, most of which were carried out by professionals. This paper describes a unique programme, planned and implemented by community volunteers which purpose was to facilitate the development of positive attitudes toward the disabled. The programme was implemented over one semester in five public schools. Five classrooms were assigned to the experimental condition and six to the control condition. Findings indicated that the training was effective in significantly improving the attitudes of the experimental group subjects as compared to the control group subjects. The paper discusses variables which contributed to the success of the programme as well as some of the limitations of attitude change research.
This paper takes a critical look at simulation exercises. Little evidence exists that these exercises have a positive effect on either attitudes or behaviour but, despite this, they are used extensively in disability awareness training, both for children and adults. It is argued in this paper that by individualising and medicalising disability, and by focusing excessively on problems and difficulties, simulation exercises provide false and misleading information, and inculcate negative, rather than positive, attitudes towards disabled people. It is suggested that simulation exercises fail to simulate impairment correctly, and address neither the coping strategies and skills disabled people develop in living with impairment, nor the cumulative social and psychological effect of encountering social and physical barriers over a lifetime. Rather than using simulation as a means of attempting to understand the experience of disability, the paper concludes by advocating the use of disability equality training, which is devised and run by disabled people themselves.
We investigated students' perceptions of 20 different disabilities in a within-subject design. Two between-subjects variables were also employed: (a) sex of the participant, and (b) grade level (3, 6, 9, 12, or college). Participants were read a brief definition of each disability, and were then asked to rate the disability in terms of its visibility, severity, acceptability, and familiarity. The results indicated that (a) 6th and 12th graders were significantly more accepting than 3rd graders; (b) in general, females were more accepting than males, with males giving significantly higher ratings of severity to four disabilities than did females; and (c) 3rd graders gave the highest ratings of visibility, lowest ratings of familiarity, and lowest ratings of acceptability. The implications of these findings are discussed.
A programme to develop more positive attitudes among primary school students towards peers with disabilities was evaluated in two schools; one which included children with disabilities and another which did not. In each school 30 fourth-grade students were randomly allocated to an experimental or control group. The attitude change programme presented to the experimental groups during four social studies periods comprised controlled vicarious contact with peers with disabilities, disability simulations, and success oriented group experiences. The Peer Attitudes Toward the Handicapped Scale was used as the dependent variable measure. This was administered to all students as a pretest, an immediate post-test, and a three months delayed post-test. for both post-tests the experimental groups displayed significantly more positive attitudes on the physical and learning subscales and the total scale. Students in the school which included peers with disabilities generally indicated the more positive attitudes.
Interventions are being developed to enhance children's attitudes toward disabled peers and thereby facilitate mainstreaming in schools. This study evaluates the impact of Feeling Free, a multi-media program of disability-related films, activities, discussions, and books. Participants were children from 16 classrooms, grades 3 through 6. Two classes at each grade level (N = 8) were randomly assigned to the six-session program and were compared on five outcome measures to the eight remaining classrooms. Treatment children demonstrated increased knowledge about disabilities, more positive perceptions of disabled persons, and greater awareness of appropriate behavioral responses to disabled peers. There were no long-lasting treatment effects on two measures of children's acknowledged willingness to interact with disabled peers, although treatment girls demonstrated short-term gains on one measure. Suggestions are made for increasing program impact and providing services to other participants in the mainstreaming process.
Children spend many hours of their free time “playing” computerized video games. This learner involvement may have significant educational implications. One area of impact is on the acquisition of spatial visualization skills. The general nature of spatial visualization and its educational and social relevance is presented. Skills development by student/video game interaction is also explored.