Many people with disabilities and older adults rely on home modifications to remain independent in their homes. However, choosing modification options, or learning how to guide others in making these choices, can be confusing. Our goal in developing the Virtual Home Modification Education Assistant (VHMEA) is to create a system that will allow a person with a disability or a service provider to interact with the virtual home and experience how a person with a disability would interact with its features. This experiential component is supplemented with textual information about different options that might be tried and their trade-offs (e.g., cost).
When using the VHMEA, system users start out by selecting an avatar with a functional limitation, and which may or may not use an assistive device (e.g., mobility aid). These avatars have varying degrees of mobility (e.g., individual who uses a walker or a wheelchair) or dexterity (e.g., difficulty with grasping, reach, and/or strength). Currently, none of the avatars have multiple disabilities. After choosing their avatar, users can then jump to a particular room and its tasks, or navigate through the house to a particular location and highlighted areas that represent tasks that can be explored. The user makes choices about a task to be completed (e.g., using the toilet) and how the environment will be set up (e.g., the addition of grab bars), then runs an animation to see whether the avatar encounters a problem with completing the task. The user is then prompted to change the environment if a problem is encountered (or if a potential improvement is available, such as repositioning the grab bars) and receives information about options that might be considered. The system describes each solution and its pros and cons. Finally, additional information about the home modifications can be found through links to online resources such as Abledata.
The virtual home is being developed on the Unreal Development Kit and Unity 3D gaming engines. Access to the beta version of the environment can be requested by contacting: Karen Milchus
Milchus, K., Swarts, M., Malesevic, M., Lee, S. (2015, June) The Virtual Home Modifications Educational Assistant, RESNA National Conference, Denver.
This project was conducted under grant #90IF0038 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) / Administration for Community Living, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (formerly grant #H133G120204, U.S. Dept. of Education).