Over the past year or so I've read a number of articles about the virtual world Second Life. It's a virtual online world - with locations built and maintained by users and its own currency called Lindens. Some locations are cities, some are beachfronts, some are space stations - it runs the gamut.
So the other night I decided to try Second Life. I created an avatar and wandered into the Pier, a nightclub environment near a beach. It was a friendly crowd with good music so I clicked on a dot and my avatar danced a bit. I used the search feature to look for "Live Music" and attended a few concerts where avatars (very talented ones) offered entertainment from bands to solo artists. I found moving around a bit awkward as a newbie and bumped into a few avatars but no bruises or bumps happen in Second Life.
Then I searched under disability and I found Wheelies. Wow. It's a multi level building full of disability art and media. I ran into Simon (click above to read about Simon) who gave me a Wheelies welcome package and in it was a blue aluminum wheelchair. Most excellent! (I also received free t shirts and other useful items to a newbie with no Lindens.)
I went to the top floor using the handy dandy elevator and spent some time under the virtual night sky floating in a tube in the pool at Wheelies. Then I flew around the area a bit (yes you can fly!) and found the whales in the sea near the building. It was fun dipping and diving with them.
The next night I decided to attend a literary reading in another place. Before I went inside, I dragged/dropped the wheelchair (called object) onto my avatar and there I was - in a wheelchair on Second Life. The literary reading was on the third floor of a ramped museum so I rolled up the ramps and rolled into the group. Just like in real life, chairs that were set out for people to sit on blocked my way a bit, so I rolled around them. I was invited to join the group and the discussion which was quite good. Unfortunately I attempted to move my wheelchair halfway through and I rolled backwards off the third floor (the floors were the kind that hang in mid air) and landed on the first floor.
I laughed so hard at my "newbie" move that I was unfit to return to any kind of literary reading. Instead I decided to try out a new venue. I joined in the Monster Mash at a concert and got a free mask. Cool. Then I teleported to another concert. As I landed in my wheelchair, an avatar approached me and asked "Are you disabled in RL?" (RL meaning real life) to which I replied yes. She said "So am I but I choose to enjoy mobility in SL." (Second Life). hmmm. So I replied "Cool." She walked away quickly before I could add anything.
So why do I use a wheelchair for my avatar in Second Life? As Simon from Wheelies puts it:
"The avatar is a powerful device in ensuring an inner self-identity...
So for some disabled people, Second Life is an opportunity to escape from their impairment. Disclosure is optional and this “second life” often suits people who became disabled after birth.
There is, however, a group of disabled people, including myself, who wish to appear disabled within Second Life. ...
Within an environment which is perceived to be barrier free, it challenges the very nature of impairment and disability when someone chooses to appear disabled. ”
I find the world of Second Life to be quite accessible in a wheelchair. It's not that there aren't steps but if you don't mind jostling, your wheelchair just goes right up them. And there's the optional "flying" - when you fly in a wheelchair you certainly do fulfill those fantasies you've had from lack of access!
For me, using a wheelchair has nothing to do with accessibility,however. It's about exercising my choice to enjoy Second Life without feeling like I have to hide my disability and who I am.
Here's a video about Simon's site on Second Life.