State Invests in VR Pilot Program to Train Staff Despite Health, Safety, and Privacy Risks

By B.N. Frank

It wasn’t that long ago that virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) systems were NOT being utilized for educational and/or job training purposes.  Some might even say that adults as well as children managed to learn well enough without them.  Nevertheless, despite widely reported health (see 1, 2), safety, and privacy risks (see 1, 2), their use continues to increase in the U.S. in K-12 curriculums as well as for job training purposes (see 1, 2, 3).  In fact, the State of Colorado has invested in VR to train its staff to better serve individuals with developmental disabilities and other health needs.  Feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone?

From GovTech:

Colorado Invests in VR to Train HHS Staff in Accessibility

The state of Colorado has launched a pilot program at the Pueblo Regional Center that uses virtual reality technology to train staff to better serve individuals with developmental disabilities and other health needs.

Julia Edinger

A Colorado pilot program is helping state workers better serve individuals with disabilities through virtual reality training simulations.

The program, at the Pueblo Regional Center (PRC), uses the technology to improve staff training for those that work with vulnerable populations, according to Elaine Fisher, the staff development director for the Colorado Division of Regional Centers and virtual reality program lead at PRC. The center works with individuals with developmental disabilities until they can be transitioned to a less restrictive setting.

Evidence has shown that virtual reality is a powerful training tool that has been used in myriad ways, like combating racial bias. In the health-care field, it can help train professionals to better serve the individuals they work with.

Fisher and her team are certified trainers in VR technology, introducing it to staff who work directly with individuals with developmental disabilities. The technology allows staff to experience working with Alzheimer’s disease; Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease; vision and hearing loss; end-of-life conversations; LGBT+ aging and trans health; home health assessments; physical and psychological health and relationship dynamics; and communication strategies.

In one module, for example, a 74-year-old man who has age-related macular degeneration and high-frequency hearing loss that is frustrated with recent changes in his vision and hearing. Another module involves transgender health care. While some states are pushing back on inclusive health care, Fisher said that including this population in the training is important from an equity, diversity and inclusivity perspective.

“We are obviously in the health-care sector, and we are big believers in person-centered practices, which means that we meet people where they’re at,” she said, adding that it’s important staff understand how to provide high-quality care to all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

There are currently two layers of technology being used from Embodied Labs: one involving virtual reality using the company’s goggles, and one that is virtual reality but through an online platform.

Change management has been a major part of implementation because there are three separate regional centers overseen by the Colorado Department of Human Services: PRC, Grand Junction Regional Center and Wheat Ridge Regional Center. Identifying key stakeholders and working together has been an important part of the process, Fisher said, as well as building excitement and finding internal project champions.

The pilot program is occurring in three phases. Phase one is the start of implementation, which will involve data and feedback collection in partnership with University of Denver’s Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging. The first phase also involved a launch event last month — a key piece of building buy-in among leadership and standardization of new employee orientation.

The first phase also involved creating and implementing a custom playlist that uses pre-existing modules specific to health-care delivery but that meet the objectives of staff at the regional centers. This involved close collaboration with Embodied Labs to bring together the technology piece with the adult learning theory perspective. By doing so, the customized playlist was able to include the modules, customized introductions and customized post assessments specific to Colorado’s work in the regional centers.

Phase two will be focused on the program’s expansion. Fisher said that the process of obtaining additional grant funding is in progress to purchase additional VR headsets. The goal is to move through this phase within a year.

The virtual reality goggles are currently being used at PRC, but the online platform will be available at the other two regional centers. The goal is to obtain additional headsets as part of phase two that would be used at the other centers.

Phase three is a long-term vision to work with Embodied Labs to create custom scenarios to include additional populations in training. Fisher said this might include individuals with autism spectrum disorder or substance abuse disorder.

“I think the sky’s the limit,” she said.

Activist Post reports regularly about AR, MR, VR, and other unsafe technologies.  For more information, visit our archives and the following websites:

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