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VR in the service of people with special needs. Include 2003: the practice of inclusive design

Grant, P.M. and Conway, B.A. and Harrison, C.S. (2003) VR in the service of people with special needs. Include 2003: the practice of inclusive design. In: Include 2003: the practice of inclusive design, 2003-03-25 - 2003-03-28.

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Abstract

The normal application of Virtual Reality is directed towards the simulation of environments which are in some way special - remote, hazardous or purely imaginary. This paper describes research and development work which changes the paradigm by simulating perfectly ordinary buildings for special people. Some 1.5% of the population have some form of physical impairment - a proportion likely to rise in line with an ageing population (Prosthetic and Wheelchair Committee,1996). New legislation, e.g. the UK Disability Discrimination Act places additional responsibility on building owners to ensure adequate access for people with an impairment and this places additional responsibility on the architect. Current methods of auditing access for new building are primitive and require the auditor to interpret plans/sections of the proposed building against a checklist of requirements specific to the special need. This paper reports on progress in the use of an immersive VR facility to simulate access to buildings for those with a mobility impairment. ABACUS and the Strathclyde Bioengineering Unit have completed a research project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council EQUAL programme, to develop a virtual reality facility that can be used to generate, via an interaction between architects, designers and wheelchair users, guidelines which address the issue of wheelchair access to, and within, the built environment. A wheelchair motion platform where users can explore virtual representations of buildings has been designed, built and evaluated with real users; it is a powerful and cost effective means of evaluating wheelchair access provision early in the design and redevelpment of buildings.