Virtual Reality Brings New Possibilities to Kids with Disabilities

By Phill Powell

Here at DMA, we’re big on virtual reality – and are amazed at its many possibilities.

For the students in our VR tech camps, virtual reality presents video games as an eye-popping new visual experience.

But for others, like individuals with physical challenges, VR can offer something even more thrilling – the chance to take part in everyday activities that the rest of us usually take for granted.


With an Eye Play the Piano headset, you can make incredible piano music by just moving your eyes.

Learning to play the piano is challenging enough, but it’s even more intimidating to someone with physical challenges. That’s why Japanese VR headset maker Fove joined forces with Japan’s University of Tsukuba’s Special Needs Education School for the Physically Challenged.

Together, they came up with Eye Play the Piano, which its makers call a “universal piano.” It’s controlled by the user’s eye movements, which correspond to notes on a virtual piano. The user selects the note by blinking, which then plinks the desired note.

The system is versatile, too. It’s not limited to just playing a single note, one after another. By selecting a different menu, the user can also activate full chords instead of notes, enabling more complex music to be played via the headset.

Eye Play the Piano is a godsend for children whose muscular conditions make it nearly impossible or uncomfortable to play a traditional piano.


Kids at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital get a much-needed break from reality, thanks to VR gear from Game Star.

Hospital pediatric facilities are also picking up on VR. At the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, game company Game Start is providing Oculus Rift headsets to young patients.

In NBC’s story on this subject, Child Life Specialist J.J. Bouchard marveled at what happens to kids who get to experience dazzling new electronic worlds via VR: “Even kids who are in a wheelchair or kids who can’t move any part of their body can now ride a horse or fly an airplane…or just walk.”

The reactions are amazing, with many young gamers unable to control their excitement as they yell and scream and point out how amazing everything in the virtual world is.

In addition to helping kids who face permanent physical challenges, it’s now understood that VR can also work miracles for patients coming back from serious brain injuries.


We know VR can thrill you, but can it also make you feel better about yourself?

VR can not only assist the body as it tries to heal; there’s plenty of evidence to show that using virtual reality as a treatment aid can assist people suffering from clinical depression.

While it’s usually considered a disease that targets adults, depression typically affects 10 to 15 percent of U.S. children and teens. (And, in fact, it’s estimated that one in four adolescents wind up having to fend off major depression during the high school years.)

Researchers at University College London conducted a study that suggested VR treatment could help the chronically depressed by boosting their self-empathy and helping them criticize themselves less.

The participants wore a VR headset, which showed the first-person perspective of a virtual body, and copied the body posture of the person wearing the headset. In this virtual reality, the virtual body would encounter a virtual child. The child would begin to cry and the virtual person had to comfort the child to calm them. Then the roles were reversed, with the virtual child comforting the virtual person.

The simple, 8-minute exercise was repeated at regular intervals. Participants interviewed more than a month later indicated they were considerably nicer to themselves – showing more compassion to themselves and less self-criticism than before. VR comes to the rescue again!


News about VR is everywhere these days. (In fact, the first consumer Oculus Rift was just recently delivered to the first pre-orderer.)

Virtual reality is just one of the cool courses being offered at DMA tech camp locations across the U.S. and Canada.

Take part in DMA‘s biggest and best season yet!