VR Helped This Man Feel What It’s Like To Walk Again

VR gave this man the ability to walk, explore Burning Man and ski all from his wheelchair.

Evan W. Gadda said he had dreamed of traveling to Burning Man. As an artist himself he said the opportunity would be unreal. But Evan is confined to a wheelchair and has asthma, and the trek into the desert could possibly be unsafe for his health.

Knowing all of this, Harry Thomas and the @One Digital Media team at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), which has been embracing VR, wanted to bring Burning Man to him. They provided him with the opportunity to explore Burning Man and ski down a slope in Tahoe — with the help of VR.

“I haven’t skied since I was 15 years old,” Evan said, with tears running down his face. “You made me feel like I was walking.”

Evan clearly had a very emotional response to the experience, one that is moving to watch. And he requested that VR experience is shared so other people with disabilities can have the same profound moment he had.

“VR is going to be a very nice experience for anybody who is handicapped,” Evan said. “I think it will open new doors.

The experience created for Evan is now on YouTube for others to explore themselves.

“[Evan’s] response was actually stronger than I expected it to be from him,” Thomas said. “[…] I think it started expanding his horizons in the sense that ‘oh if I can experience this, how much more can be done?’”

UNR is also asking that question. In October, the university announced @Reality, a virtual and augmented reality studio within the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center (the same place Evan was transported to Burning Man at.) @Reality will provide a space to collaborate and work on AR and VR projects as more fields of study at UNR embrace the tech.

Beyond Thomas’s project, faculty in journalism, psychology and other fields are using VR in their lectures and research. Like Gideon Capolivitz, a psychology professor, who is researching how the brain can be fooled by 2D optical illusions.

The new @Reality studio space will ensure new research and experiences like the one Evan explored will be accessible to more people and help grow the industry in academia and for those with limited accessibility.

“I think VR is not just for me,” Evan said. “It’s for every handicapped person.”

About the Scout

Allison Hollender

Allison is a Bay Area journalist reporting for VRScout. Follow her attempts at jokes @alleyrenee16.

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