Vision Australia virtual reality headset aims to boost understanding of life with low vision

A NEW device is providing insights into the world as people with low vision see it.

Vision Australia’s virtual reality headset enables users to experience the effects of four common eye conditions – cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. 

North West Murray regional practice leader Virginia McDonald was hopeful the immersive experience would increase understanding of what it was like to live with low vision.

“I have worked as an orthoptist for 20 years and understand these common eye conditions intimately but there is no way that I could truly comprehend how these affect a person’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks,” she said.

“It’s taking all the head knowledge and making it real in the heart.”

In addition to simulating the conditions, the device shows users how Vision Australia’s services help people with low vision.

Users are tasked with a challenge: to navigate a lounge room, turn on the television and use it to make a Skype call.

The virtual reality tool first simulates the eye condition, then the room with a range of interventions and services provided by Vision Australia.

The device, which Mrs McDonald helped develop, was used during a professional development session for disability support workers in Bendigo on Tuesday.

“It’s a really powerful education tool,” she said. 

“The applications are endless, really.”

She said the development team was hoping to use the technology to simulate more environments, such as kitchens and classrooms.

The wishlist also includes additional headsets.

“Our chief executive officer would love them at each centre so people could come in and experience it,” Mrs McDonald said. 

The existing tool is based in Melbourne.

Vision Australia strategic partnerships and initiatives manager Chris Edwards addresses disability support workers in Bendigo. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Vision Australia strategic partnerships and initiatives manager Chris Edwards addresses disability support workers in Bendigo. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Vision Australia strategic partnerships and initiatives manager Chris Edwards was optimistic about the device’s potential to help people experience the world as he and others with low vision did.

“Until now, you could only explain and demonstrate very simply, but now people get that full immersive experience that blows them away,” Mr Edwards said. 

“Attitude is everything in the community so the more that people can understand living with low vision and the strategies to support that, the better it is for everyone.”

The virtual reality tool was inspired by a leadership and management course senior Vision Australia staff undertook at Swinburne University, and was developed in partnership with Opaque Media.