More than 35 speakers will be presenting at the ATSA Independent Living Expo in Melbourne from May 16-17.

One presenter pushing the boundaries when it comes to cutting edge technology is Stewart Koplick from Endeavour Foundation who, for the first time, will demonstrate virtual reality (VR) within a kitchen environment. Using equipment from the US (and only just being released in Australia), users don a special VR headset that is connected to a laptop or desktop that immerses them into a 360-degree world to interact with virtual items.

“A person with disability can move into the virtual world to simulate any number of tasks within a safe environment where we can support learning and correct any mistakes. We are evaluating the learnings behind the virtual world and how this can be adapted to a ‘real world’ application, Koplick told F2L. “The beauty of VR is that it allows you to make these mistakes several times within a safe environment until the process is right, which you cannot do in a real kitchen without some risk.”

 He sees VR as new mode of learning that is interactive and engaging. “While you can do online and school based teaching, VR goes beyond that because it makes learning more effective and safer using technology which young people are interested in.  It is possible to create any scenario from real life virtually. And as technology continues to evolve, it is not just about recreating a visual experience but a physiological one as well,” he said.        

Another speaker, Olivia Karaolis, founded the UCPlay Project, United Cerebral Palsy’s creative arts education program designed for children with special needs that reached over a thousand children in Los Angeles and she continues to work with the Early Childhood Development faculty at Santa Monica College.  Her fun and interactive workshop will help professionals, therapists, parents and caregivers learn how to use puppets to increase their ability to communicate with young children and reduce anxiety across a range of settings. The session will include tips on how to use puppetry to build a rapport with clients for assessment as well as basic guidelines on the art of puppetry.

Karaolis is also an author and was the host of the children’s television series, “Where you find the Ladybird”. She recently joined Plumtree Children’s Services in NSW that provide support for young children with disabilities and their families.

Renee Jenkins, pictured, will deliver a case study on Animal Assisted Therapy and the benefits that animals can provided to people with disability and children with autism.  These can include increased motivation and engagement, decreased anxiety and improved mood, increased focus and attention and social participation. “Dogbond is flexible and client centred, tailoring each program to the individual,” Jenkins said. “We offer consultancy to allied health professionals looking to use an innovative approach to their therapy.”

Occupation therapist Narelle Higson is giving a lively and informative presentation on the challenges many people with disability face with sexual health issues and includes strategies that may assist in solving issues such as fatigue and movement limitations.

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