Empowering the physically challenged

by Stone Semyorka

I said here the other day that Second Life empowers people facing a variety of challenges. Now Newsweek has discovered Simon Stevens operating his in-world nightclub known as Wheelies. Stevens is Simon Walsh in SL.

The magazine’s print article in the July 30, 2007, issue is here.

Simon Walsh dances in chair

Wheelies owner Simon Walsh dances in his chair.

Interestingly, Newsweek produced a video of article reporter Jessica Bennett entering SL and interviewing Stevens at his nightclub. The 33-year-old Stevens has a disability-consulting firm — Enable Enterprises — in England.

Simon is shown liberated from his cerebral palsy through Second Life. He is quoted by Newsweek as saying, “I flourish in Second Life. It’s no game—it’s a serious tool.”

The article is very positive. The magazines’ Web site offers a gallery of photos of SL people and their avatars.

Wheelies nightclub

Wheelies Nightclub on the Second Ability sim.

There is a Q&A with Second Life creator Philip Rosedale.

And there is another piece called 10 Things You Must Know About Second Life.

And a live talk discussion with the Newsweek reporter Jessica Bennett.

Simon Walsh standsWheelies owner Simon Walsh stands.

In addition, there is an interesting blog entry by SL resident and composer/singer Rich DeSoto, whose songs Avatar Girl and I Used to Sleep are heard in the video.

The video can be seen on his blog page, as well as the Newsweek page. And his two songs can be heard independently as audio tracks from his blog page, also. I like both songs and especially the arrangement of I Used to Sleep.

duilio Cimino in chair

duilio Cimino in wheel chair at Wheelies Nightclub.

Looking for myself

I stopped by Wheelies on Second Ability Island today and found owner Simon Walsh there dancing.

The Stevens Centre mall and office complex is next door on the island. Second Ability is positioned on the grid at (71, 72, 35).

Stevens owns the island, the nightclub and the centre.

“I am an SL wheelchair user with ambition!,” he exclaims.

Wheelies DJ Taliesin Silverstar

DJ Taliesin Silverstar spins the records at Wheelies Nightclub.

Wheelies DJ Taliesin Silverstar was spinning the records and duilio Cimino from France also was on hand.

I asked Cimino if he is physically challenged in RL.

“I am handicapped,” he replied. “Multiple sclerosis.”

Does he like the club? “Oh yes,” he said. “It is super and good music.” He said he drops by the club frequently.

duilio Cimino stands

duilio Cimino stands to dance at Wheelies Nightclub.

In RL, Stevens operates the firm Disability Consultant and Training. He is chief executive of Enable Enterprises.

SL helps people integrate into society

Bennett also uncovered Brigadoon, an SL island where people who suffer Asperger’s syndrome congregate. The syndrome is an autism known for awkward, eccentric and obsessive behavior.

They have trouble interacting socially and don’t understand things that should come naturally. For example, how to introduce themselves to othrs or strike up a conversation.

In Second Life, they are learning to interact in ways that would terrify them in RL. One resident has re-created a favorite restaurant, where the group now meets regularly.

Gradually, they are leaving their private island to venture into the rest of Second Life, integrating into the larger community.


The mists of Brigadoon in Second Life.

Some fascinating numbers

Newsweek dug out positive data on SL. For instance, our world had just 1.5 million registered users a year ago. Now, more than 8 million and growing by a million a month.

World of Warcraft has around 8 million, while the less attractive Cyworld from South Korea claims 20 million.

Virgin’s Richard Branson says he is creating a 3-D community called A World of My Own.

Wheelchairs lined up

Wheelchairs for customers lined up at the entrance to Wheelies Nightclub.

Where is this headed?

Newsweek reports a study in Netherlands found 57 percent of SLers spend more than 18 hours a week in-world, while 33 percent spend more than 30 hours a week. I can add one thing to that. I have a ton of Dutch friends and acquaintances, and they are logged on a lot.

Gartner Research is a respected research firm. It projects that, by 2011, four of every five people who use the Internet will participate actively in Second Life or some similar medium, according to Newsweek. That means 1.6 billion — out of 2 billion Internet users — will have found new lives online.

Whew! And you think there is lag now.

Wheelies atrium

Framed photographs line Wheelies atrium.

MySpace and Facebook won’t cut it

I agree with Newsweek’s assessment of the MySpace and Facebook online communities as falling short because they lack the three-dimensional environment for interaction that Second Life provides.

Newsweek counts more than 45 multinational companies — American Apparel, IBM, General Motors, Dell and others — using SL for customer service, sales and marketing.

Wheelies mall shops

Stevens Centre mall shops

Voice and video chats

I’m hearing a lot of in-world buzz about the new voice chat capability of SL. My neighbor, HALEY Salomon, and others in-world keep bugging me to get with the program.

Meanwhile, other people — like another in-world friend of mine, padlurowncanoe Dibou, and others — are talking through the Internet audio software Skype. They tell me that SL audio quality doesn’t measure up to Skype’s.

Some SL residents even use live streaming video to see each other in real life while chatting. Of course, they also see their avatars inside SL. I wonder if that diminishes the fantasy for them over time?

Blabbering at the screen

I’m thinking it over and may make a decision soon. Or maybe not.

The voice folks are talking out loud while sitting in front of their computer screens. Am I just old-fashioned when I think it is just a little weird, and could be disruptive for other people in an RL household.

On the other hand, “Voice technology can…bring engagement to a whole new level,” according to reporter Jessica Bennett, who says she thinks “a lot of people in Second Life crave more interaction.”

The tax man cometh

Money is being made in SL. On a typical day, we are shopping to the tune of $1 million a day buying clothes, cars, houses and other goods for our avatars, according to Newsweek. Of course, those are just the basic necessities of life. (Pretend you see a LOL or a smiley face here.)

Sales are growing 10 percent a year.

But, oh my, all that money flowing has drawn the attention of the U.S. tax authorities, who are currently investigating the profits of online businesses, according to Newsweek.

Like I say, SL mimics RL.

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