Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Is It Live?

Depending on your age, you may or may not remember a series of commercials from the 1970s featuring the incredible Ella Fitzgerald singing a note that shattered a wine glass – but the question was – was she singing live, or was it a cassette tape of her voice?

Can’t see the video? Click here

The message implicit in the commercial was that Memorex cassette tapes were of such high quality you couldn’t tell the difference between a recording and the real thing.

How far we’ve come since then. I was recently introduced to Google Cardboard, a virtual reality headset made out of, you guessed it, cardboard. All a user needs to do is download an app to their smart phone (in this case, an Android phone), insert the phone into the headset, and suddenly you find yourself in a virtual experience that is truly mind blowing (and a bit disorienting).

According to the article linked above, Google Cardboard works like this:

The washer and magnet work with the phone’s compass and allow you to choose your applications or pick up an object (the analog equivalent of a click). The lenses focus your gaze on the split screen in a way which tricks your brain into believing that what you are seeing is in fact all around you. (This is called stereoscopic 3D view.) Move your head around and the screen changes as if you’re in that world – with no lag time. This is thanks to the phone’s gyroscope, which measures “angular momentum.”

By this point, you may be asking, why is Mark writing about this? The answer is simple. Technology continues to rewrite the rules of how we can engage in our community. A relatively simple and inexpensive tool like Google Cardboard creates possibilities for individuals with a wide range of disabilities to have experiences that would have been considered impossible just a few short years ago.

Who among us, irrespective of our abilities or disabilities, wouldn’t enjoy taking a virtual flight around the Earth using Google Earth, or a drive through Paris with a (virtual) local guide? Those are options that are already available through Google Cardboard now. And yes, this may seem to you or me to be merely entertaining diversions, but imagine how a person with a significant disability, a person for whom the “real” experience would be out of the question under almost any circumstance, might see this opportunity to travel virtually. It will be profound.

No doubt this is only the beginning of what this type of technology has to offer. Those of us in the field of serving people with a variety of disabilities need to be aware of these new technologies and to start asking now how we should be incorporating them into our services. We need to explore the ethical issues that surround participation in a virtual versus the physical world. Should we not target these incredible applications to people who might benefit the most?

In our field, what the people we serve expect out of their own lives and what those of us providing the services expect out of their lives doesn’t always match. Technology that is fast approaching can help bridge that gap, and we are already at the point where the impossible is becoming possible. We need to understand these new possibilities and determine the best approach to making them part of our service provision.

Then again, what do I know?

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