A new virtual reality training tool is putting Illawarra disability support staff in the picture.
House With No Steps has spent 12 months developing the prototype after a $200,000 grant from the National Disability Services’ innovative workforce fund.
Developers received input from dozens of support workers to learn about the kinds of real-life situations they are placed in – and how to replicate that in a virtual world.
HWNS strategic innovation lead Angela Meyer said the tool was now being piloted with workers in the Illawarra, before it was rolled out nationally.
“We’d seen examples of virtual reality used in other industries, such as emergency services and hospitals,” she said.
“Places where people are dealing with risky situations but where they didn’t want to throw employees into those risky situations in order to train them.
“So we wanted to see how we might utilise the technology to support our workforce, and help them learn about high risk situations in a safe and realistic way.”
The new VR prototype was developed in partnership with UNSW and the Centre for Social Impact. Once the worker puts on the ‘goggles’ they find themselves in a room – with one or more clients and other workers – where an incident unfolds.
“Disability support workers face a number of situations they need to be prepared for,” Ms Meyer said.
“These include a range of medical emergencies – for instance if someone has a seizure or if they faint. They can also include situations where they have to deal with challenging behaviours, where things can escalate quite quickly.
“What’s really unique about virtual reality, is it gives workers the experience of being there – so they get that visceral sense of their heart rate quickening, and that intake of breath.
“That physical and emotional response just doesn’t happen with other forms of training, such as role play.”
It’s an observational tool – workers are put in the middle of the scene, they witness what happens and the staff talk to them, but they cannot talk back or take action.
“It’s not interactive, it’s not like a game,” Ms Meyer said. “But it gives them an experience of stepping into a risky incident that’s happening, and see how different actions might have different results.”
The tool is planned to be used for new employees, as well as in further development for existing staff.
“We don’t see a lot of technology being used in the disability space, so this is quite exciting,” Ms Meyer said.