Heriot-Watt University VR project - Main 1

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VR may be a novel technology, but it pressed all the right buttons in a Heriot-Watt University research project aiming to eliminate bias toward disabled academics

Quick read

➨ Animmersion created two interactive, immersive experiences for Heriot-Watt University
➨ One simulates a job interview involving a disabled candidate that takes place within a dynamic video conferencing scenario
➨ Another uses virtual reality to recreate the effect of working in a busy, open plan office for someone living with auditory hypersensitivity
➨ The resulting training programme, including the two interactive experiences developed as part of the project, will launch this month

The story

Heriot-Watt University in Scotland has completed a major two-and-a-half-year project using immersive technology to improve the recruitment and retention of disabled scientists.

The resulting training programme, including the two interactive experiences developed as part of the project, will launch this month.

UK-based digital visualisation specialist Animmersion created two interactive, immersive experiences for Heriot-Watt University as part of the Disability Inclusive Science Careers (DISC) programme aimed at improving the recruitment, retention, and progression of postdoctoral disabled scientists.

The first experience simulates a job interview involving a disabled candidate that takes place within a dynamic video conferencing scenario, while the second uses virtual reality to recreate the effect of working in a busy, open plan office for someone living with auditory hypersensitivity.

Various levels and types of responses are explored in each scenario to highlight differing levels of discrimination, responses, and actions.

These activities are designed to give decision makers an insight into both unintended and blatant bias encountered by disabled colleagues within the academic sector.

Heriot-Watt University VR project - Main 2
The immersive experiences developed by Animmersion

Heriot Watt University is leading the DISC initiative, with support from the University of Edinburgh, University and Colleges Union Scotland, and the National Association of Disabled Staff.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded the project as part of an initiative in the UK to make engineering and physical sciences more diverse and inclusive.

‘A novel dimension to disability inclusion training’

Programme lead Professor Garry Pender, Heriot Watt University’s deputy principal for research and innovation, says the “experiential element” of the training provided by immersive technology has “enhanced managers’ understanding of the challenges facing disabled colleagues”.

“I am sure that this will lead to a positive outcome in the design and implementation of suitable adjustments to the working environment for disabled researchers.”

Professor Kate Sang, director of the Centre for Research on Employment Work and the Professions (CREWS), adds: “The immersive virtual reality gaming has added a novel dimension to disability inclusion training, which has excited and engaged managers across all the sectors we have delivered the training in. Managers have been able to experience the real-world scenarios experienced by disabled people and learned about how easily some of the barriers can be removed.”

Sam Harrison, managing director of Animmersion, says: “It’s certainly a novel approach to use immersive gaming technologies to raise awareness of real-life workplace bias experienced by disabled researchers.”

“We are experts in transforming academic material and making it engaging and accessible to wider audiences and our team is proud of its contribution to DISC. We hope it represents a leap forward in promoting a greater understanding of issues surrounding disability in academia.”

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Images: Heriot-Watt University

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