Friendly Access, GSA and Crag3D to take forward mobile Virtual Reality (VR) research to help people with “invisible” conditions such as autism and anxiety.
Specialists in support for hidden disabilities at Friendly Access, along with the School of Simulation
and Visualisation (SimVis) at The Glasgow School of Art and Crag3D Ltd have received continued
Scottish Government and European Social Fund support from the Social Innovation Fund to expand on
research and development of their innovative work it was revealed today (Friday 29 June 2018).
The Dynamic Interactive Navigation for Familiarisation and Desensitisation project helps support people
who have hidden disabilities and mental health conditions. Using a VR compatible mobile phone, and a
VR headset costing as little as £1.99, members of the general public will be soon able to use an app to
help prepare for the challenges of visiting stressful places. The apps will create immersive 3D digital
versions of real environments from airports, classrooms and places of employment. It gradually
increases stressors helping people to practice overcoming the barriers which these stressful situations
Hidden disabilities can result in high levels of discrimination, fear and anxiety, often leading to isolation
and poverty. Environmental stressors such as certain sounds, lighting and crowd behaviour can become
significant barriers towards autonomy, impeding many vulnerable individuals doing what others might
think as everyday activities.
Facilities, such as airports do sometimes offer initiatives as pre-visit familiarity tours which can be of
great help to many individuals and families. This app will expand on this by allowing people to control
and experience virtual worlds from a chosen safe space such as their home. The benefit to airports
would be a more relaxed visitor and positive experience for many, complementing the current Disabled
Person Needing Assistance (DPNA) resource available.
“Aberdeen Airport has welcomed the opportunity to work closely with Friendly Access, Crag 3D and the
SimVis on the development of this app.” says Fraser Bain, Aberdeen Airport Duty Manager, who has
been leading the airport’s drive to become a more accessible and inclusive environment, believes the
app will be of great benefit to their passengers.
“We are always looking to improve the passenger experience and we have found that familiarisation
tours, which are well established and the hidden disability lanyards, introduced last year, have ultimately
made it easier for people to pass through the airport. We strongly believe the app will be equally
successful in providing our passengers with a further means of getting accustomed to the airport
environment ahead of a trip.”
In this stage of the research project, the team will work alongside people with hidden disabilities and
mental health conditions over several months to test the development. Additionally, a number of
academics, professionals, service providers and organisations involved with the project will help to refine
the concept as it evolves.
Charlene Tait, Director of Practice and Research, Scottish Autism, “As the leading provider of services
for autistic people in Scotland, Scottish Autism sees, at first, the stress and anxiety that result from
sensory processing differences. These challenges are often under recognised and misunderstood, not
only by members of the public but also by professionals who have limited experience in
“Our Centre for Practice Innovation seeks to support research that has a practical application and with
the potential to positively impact the lives of those we support and the wider community. Supporting the
focus of the research behind this VR project with representation from our own organisation within the
project’s advisory group will involve two of our esteemed Academics, one of whom, Dr Sue FletcherWatson,
Chancellor Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, says, “It’s exciting to be able to leverage the
power of virtual reality technology to help people achieve more autonomy. Tools like this one give people
a chance to practice new things from the safety of their sofa, before venturing out to try it for real. The
work accepts disabled people as they are, aiming to empower them, not to change them.”
“The Fragile X Society are delighted to be involved with this innovative project”, says Sandra Thoms,
Support and Development Worker, Scotland.
“We hear first hand from families and young people the challenges faced due to difficulties with sensory
processing. Sadly, this is a daily reality for many of our families and practical solutions, especially
through the medium of virtual reality are welcomed.”
Fiona Bain, Lead Community Partner, Department of Work and Pensions, “It’s really encouraging to
hear about this project and we’re excited about the possibilities of being involved”.
The team’s research aims to validate effectiveness and demand for facilities, develop design standards
and provide free access to apps from their websites. With repeated use and exposure of these apps, it is
hoped many individuals will overcome the barriers that these stressful situations often create.
“Individuals living with hidden disabilities or conditions including hypersensitivity and anxiety are often
placed at an unfair disadvantage compared to their peers in society,” says Chief Executive, Friendly
Access Glyn Morris, “This can often lead to isolation and poverty. We know how certain environments
can act as significant barriers and based upon our idea, we set about how we could improve this issue.
We want to help people overcome their fear of certain environments and thanks to increasingly
affordable pocket technology, many can now have access to this without even stepping outside of their
“In this research, we are making the most of the omni-present mobile technologies across society,” says
Dr. Matthieu Poyade, of SimVis, “The app will provide a series of interactive simulations which will help
empower people with hidden disabilities to confront stress producing contexts in the real world. This way
they can get used to challenging situations via digital environments from the safety from their home.”.
“With continued support from Aberdeen International Airport, we are now excited to start developing a
scenario for people seeking work” adds Ian Taylor, Crag3D. “Enabling individuals to overcome fears
could help them into employment and this will be of great benefit to many. We will also start to
investigate educational environments; people need access from the start.”
More information including a demo video can be found via friendlyaccess.org
For further press information contact:
Glyn Morris (firstname.lastname@example.org) – Friendly Access
GSA press office – email@example.com
Ian Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org) – Crag3D