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Your avatar looks normal to me

Kent, M. and Ellis, K. (2009) Your avatar looks normal to me. In: Disability Studies Conference 2009, 26 - 27 June 2009, UNSW, Sydney


This paper explores the intersection of disability studies and persistent online virtual worlds, and specifically Second Life from Linden Labs. Second Life has 100 000 paid subscribers and more than four million free accounts activated. Although not the largest online world, Second Life has attracted considerable attention both from the press and academic study. Significantly a number of Universities have begun to utilise the virtual environment for the delivery of Higher Education.

These virtual environments allow for a variety of social interaction and have been much studied with regard to their use by those with mobility impairments, however if this represents the three dimensional future of the Internet as some have suggested, then it will present a new set of challenges particularly for those with perceptual and cognitive impairments. The introduction of voice communications in Second Life in 2007 benefitted people with dyslexia and vision impairment but not those with hearing impairment.

Different types of impairments will experience different disabling elements in terms of interfacing with the virtual world through an appropriate computer interface and also in terms of how disability is represented within the virtual world itself and in the interactions between its varied inhabitants. This paper explores the way people with disability are using virtual worlds such as Second Life, and the broader exploration of disability issues within them. We consider whether virtual worlds are simply mirroring pre-existing social prejudice and consider where they fit within the current discourse of both the social model of disability and human rights perspectives on disability. Second Life may provide meaningful social identity but care must be taken not to present it or technology broadly, unproblematically as a brave new world when it brings older, analogue, world values with it.

Item Type: Conference Paper
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