A learning disability charity is trialling virtual reality, or VR technology, to encourage people with learning disabilities to get active.
Physical activity has huge physical and mental benefits (such as improved fitness, strength, dexterity and resilience) but research by Activity Alliance found that nearly two thirds (59%) of people with a learning disability do not participate in sport.
One of the barriers to physical activity is a lack of platforms and devices that are easy to use to provide people with learning disabilities with the same opportunities as everyone else.
Charities who work with people with learning disabilities have therefore been trying to come up with new ways to make physical activity more fun and engaging for learning disabled adults.
A fun and engaging way to do exercise
Hft first trialled VR technology in February, and while initially some participants were apprehensive to try it out, all four participants thoroughly enjoyed the activities by the end of the trial.
Both staff and the people they support were introduced to a variety of VR games, including Beat Saber (where participants use virtual lightsabres to cut through blocks), a dance game (in which you interact with virtual character and dance along to music in a virtual nightclub), as well as virtual bowling and tennis.
Once the participants overcame their initial apprehensions, and were assured they would be safe and comfortable using the technology, the benefit of the technology was immediately revealed.
One of the participants said he “absolutely loved [the games]”, while another said she “felt alive” while playing.
Physical and mental benefits
As well as the physical benefits of VR technology, it was also found to boost social interaction. Many VR games can be played with multiple players, or involve social interaction within the virtual world.
Ben Williams, Project Co-Ordinator, says the technology can therefore have benefits for both physical and mental health.
“It was immediately obvious that the VR headset was a lot of fun. It was something new and different and had the added bonus of social interaction which is crucial for adults with learning disabilities. Hft’s own research, Lockdown on Loneliness, identified that over one third of adults with a learning disability feel lonely nearly always or all of the time,” he said.
“It was great to see how much joy the games and headset sparked and that, even those who weren’t playing at the time, enjoyed watching the others,” he added.