SL Virtual Ability Event: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Aging Adults

20th Anniversary of the ADA Event at Virtual Ability

On Saturday, July 24, 2010 I had the unique opportunity to participate in a virtual event in SL.  Just in time for the Americans with Disabilities Act’s 20-year anniversary, Gentle Heron, leader of Virtual Ability, hosted a discussion about seniors and how the ADA applies to them.  The focus of this session was how to educate seniors about the ADA as well as discuss the sections of the ADA to the older adult population.  Zsuzsa Tomsen was invited to present about the ADA and older adults within the context of Occupational Therapy, and I went along to offer a student’s perspective.

In order to prepare for my portion of the virtual lecture, I took some time to reflect on my experience with ADA as an occupational therapy student.  Because I was born in 1985, and the ADA regulations were passed in 1990, I don’t remember a time when public areas were not designed according to ADA standards.  As such, my first true experience with ADA was during the construction of the Adapted Playground in SL.  Our team researched ways in which playground equipment could be made accessible according to ADA standards.  What a great opportunity to gain first-hand experience in creating a public area according to these standards.  Spring 2010 semester at Jefferson we were enrolled in a course about adapting environments to better support occupational performance.  During this semester, ADA standards and Universal Design principles were heavily discussed and constantly referenced.  As a result, I began to assess public spaces with a critical eye.  What could be improved upon here? How could this space be more accessible? Is this space usable for individuals with varying abilities? ADA standards became ingrained in the back of my mind.

During this period of reflection, I hauled out my old textbooks and did some heavy thinking about what ADA standards really meant and how they might apply to an aging adult.  I felt like I had done some major critical thinking…but was nervous about the way it would be received during the lecture.  What do I know? I’m only a student! Zsu assured me that my perspective as a student would be valuable, and I appreciated her kind words of encouragement.  However, I was still nervous…especially when I discovered that we would be using voice for the presentation.

I’d like to say the presentation went off without a hitch, but as luck would have it, my internet connection was not reliable and so I had difficulty teleporting to the location of the presentation.  I was nervous that I wouldn’t make it there at all! Finally, I arrived at the destination (after about twenty to thirty minutes of trying to teleport) only to discover that my voice wouldn’t activate!  As time crept closer to the presentation time I became nervous that I would not be able to deliver.  After 10 months of my virtual life, I can confidently say that nothing stresses me out quite like a Second Life glitch! But I suppose this is all part of the learning process!

Luckily, I was able to present via text while another avatar voiced my words.  Presenting in front of a number of avatars that I had never met was exhilarating…and nerve-racking!  It was exciting to have all eyes on me while I presented my perspective on ADA, its benefits, areas that could use improvement, relationship to occupational therapy and application for aging adults.  My reflection on the material led me to consider not only the benefit of adaptations to the built in environment in supporting persons with a disability, but the need for consideration for the social environment and the discrepancies that it could cause if this is not considered.  The challenge for the occupational therapy student is to strive to ensure that all aspects of the environment, not just the physical, are supportive and accessible to all individuals in order to support performance in daily activities.  Furthermore, I contemplated how aging adults can make ADA work for them by self-advocating, understanding environmental barriers to participation and as well as increasing health risks as they age.  After all, ADA standards are applicable not only to persons with congenital or acquired disabilities, but to those with age-related disabilities, such as vision loss, decreased mobility, and fatigue.  Therefore, it is exceedingly important that all persons, not just those with disabilities, understand the scope of ADA regulations because one can never know when their status as “temporarily able-bodied” might change.

Zunie speaking at Virtual Ability about the ADA

The opportunity to present my perspective on ADA and older adults in SL was a wonderful learning experience.  True, it came with frustrations…but at the heart of the matter was the occasion to integrate material that I had learned in school the past year with my own personal reflection.  The result was a lesson in confidence, preparation, and professionalism in both my Second and real lives