Harnessing Virtual Reality for Disability Awareness Sandbox

Team: Veronica Zixi Jiang, Songting Dong, Shan Pan, Yenni Tim


Australia has 4.4 million people with disabilities, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australia has enforced Disability Discrimination Act in 1992, but people with disabilities still very often suffer from negative prejudice and discrimination. Non-disabled people commonly stereotype people with disabilities as sick, dumb, repulsive, or even violent. 

Lack of awareness and understanding is a major contributor to the prejudice against people with disabilities. A common solution is to provide disability simulation exercises to non-disabled people, in which non-disabled participants do some tasks using a wheelchair or wearing a blindfold. However, recent research finds that disability simulations actually reinforce the negative stereotypes associated with disabilities and fail to improve attitudes toward people with disabilities. 

This research project aims to explore how VR can represent people with physical disabilities and whether VR can reduce the negative stereotypes associated with disabilities. Virtual Reality (VR) provides visually immersive and mentally vivid experience for viewers, thus facilitating perspective-taking and empathizing.

Impact statement:

Although 1 in 5 Australia people have some form of disability, their lives are poorly understood and their voices are seldom heard by public. In 2019, Australian Government establishes Disability Royal Commission, the highest form of inquiry on matters of public importance. This sandbox contributes to this important issue:

  • Tries to understand the life experiences of people with disabilities;
  • Tries to represent the life experiences of people with physical disabilities;
  • Investigate how VR can reduce the negative stereotypes associated with disabilities.
  • Investigate what VR characteristics can improve people‚Äôs attitudes and advocacy for people with disabilities.

This sandbox receives funding from Disability Innovation Institute at UNSW seed funding 2019; Amount: $19,538.