The View from a Wheelchair

Australian Second Life resident, Seshat Czeret, provides her second guest post. Thanks Seshat!


There is always a lot of talk about ‘accessibility’, so-called ‘making things usable for the disabled’. You also hear a lot about phrases like ‘discrimination’, ‘equal opportunity’ and ‘political correctness’. It can be difficult to work out what is actually needed to help a disabled person live a fulfilling and useful life, and what is excessive ‘correctness’. Hearing what life is like for a disabled person can help.

I’m disabled. I use Second Life extensively. This is my story.

In the atomic world, the fleshworld, I’m almost totally housebound. I can only do chores – or SL work – for a short time before I have to rest. I only have a few hours a day in which I’m functional, and even for those I’m not fully functional. I haven’t been since I was a teenager. Some days – even some weeks or months – I have even less, or am not functional at all.

When I do go out, I have to use a mobility scooter or a wheelchair. I can walk, but walking the length of a mall would tire me out to the point where I’d need several hours of sleep to recover. For various reasons – which would probably be boring – even with the assistance of the scooter or the wheelchair, going out is very stressful and leaves me tired. I have to plan outings carefully.

So I can’t do atomic world work. By the time I got to work, I’d be too weak to achieve anything. I’ve tried, over and over again, many times in the last two decades. I’ve done it, but only at the cost of aggravating my problems.

Fortunately for me, I live in the 21st Century. I can do work from home! I’ve done voluntary work for the Open Source community. I’ve done other sorts of online voluntary work. I’ve written articles, and twice written a book. Unfortunately, the pace of work expected of an author of books exceeds what I can do – the first time I wrote a book, I was more than a year recovering.

But in Second Life, I can be useful.

In Second Life, I teach. I only have to be focussed for an hour and a half or so at a time, which is a stretch of time I can manage. And I don’t have to leave my house, exhausting myself, to do so. I can teach in text, with student questions also in text, so my hearing problems don’t matter. Much of the typing is done in advance, so I don’t overstrain my arms and hands, and only have to type the personalisation of the class for the individual students I’m teaching that day.

In Second Life, I am an NCI helper. I sit and listen in on the NCI chat/questions group channel. When there’s a problem I can help with, I can choose to respond – or not! If I’m having a high pain day, I let others catch that question. If I’ve responded to too many questions and need a break, I let others catch that question. If I can answer, however, I will.

In Second Life, I run a business. I don’t have to be there all the time, I can set things up and then go collapse into my bed. I can create things that other people like, in the times when I am functional, and rest when I’m not. I can do the business management stuff when I’m capable of it, not to someone else’s timeframe.

Best of all, in Second Life, my body works. I can run, and dance, and fly, and ‘talk’, and ‘hear’. I can attend art shows, or watch people creating art in sandboxes.

In Second Life, I am a person and not a disability.

Second Life is my wheelchair.

There’s all sorts of talk about accessibility, particularly around making computers, the Internet, and online services like Second Life accessible to those who are differently abled. From the chaps in Japan, with their innovative solutions that allow folks with very minimal physical capabilities to use Second Life, to the Imprudence team and Jacek Antonelli – just one of a number of groups looking to improve the accessibility of Second Life clients. Then there’s accessibility specialists who look at Second Life from a legal view (current US law, Section 508 of the Disabilities Act), and thus investigate the content of Second Life. There’s so much focus on how it might be accomplished.

Then someone goes and, distressingly, asks, why? Why should should we put all this effort, money and man-hours into these projects? Surely it’s not worth all the expense?

Let’s examine some of the whys behind the accessibility push.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 17% of the U.S. population, aged 16 and over, lives with some form of disability.

Kippie Friedkin, 11/09/2008

If the US is representative of much of the world with regards to its Census results, close to 1/5th of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. This equates roughly to a staggering 1.36 billion people across the globe. That’s a huge number of people, all of whom are already at some disadvantage due to their disabilities. They would be disadvantaged further if accommodations are not made for them. Every one of these people has likely experienced some form of discrimination, or one or all aspects of the terrible trio: loneliness, isolation and depression. Because of their disability, these are perhaps the people who stand to benefit the most from the social revolution occurring online, and yet as it stands, they are the ones with the least access to it.

A wheelchair gives someone with limited mobility to walk, but otherwise functional in the real world, the ability to go out and do things and be a functional member of the community. Because of the nature of my disabilities, a wheelchair is insufficient. However, SL permits me to do things without leaving the protected environment of my home where I have an ergonomic setup that allows for my disabilities.

From my computer chair, I can teach, run a business, have an active social life, and be a functioning member of a community. Second Life is my wheelchair.

– Seshat Czeret, 18/09/2008

Seshat Czeret runs a successful clothing and furniture business in Second Life. She runs classes for the NCI, and is a respected member of their staff. She has several friends whom she is routinely in contact with, and many more people she communicates with regularly. She is an avid roleplayer. All these things would not be possible without access to her high-end computer and broadband connection which enable her to access Second Life.

In the physical world, Seshat suffers from a painful disability which leaves her mostly housebound. She is unable to work away from home, to leave the house for social visits, or to participate in her local community.

For Seshat, a virtual environment is a tool. It’s an extra accessory than allows her new, sometimes unexpected but often welcome, freedoms. It opens up her world. It’s a place where she can be an asset, not a liability.

In another sense, virtual environments are also a good pain management tool. Seshat is able to focus strongly on what she is doing, thereby putting some of her pain aside. If she can be said to “escape” into Second Life, it is not in the sense of “escape into fantasy”, but rather in the sense of “escape from persecution.” It is just the same as focusing on walking, or reading, or gardening, thereby creating a meditative state through focus on an activity.


[“Written by all the members of wilde, but namelessly for their protection and greater transparency”]

most of us, if not all of us, have had things stolen from us, because we were disabled

many of us, if not all of us, have been slapped or abused physically, and several times

all of us have been verbally abused– a lot! which hurts by the way!!

we’ve had our money taken from us

perhaps the greatest pain when our dignity has been taken, stolen.

our humanity, feelings, kicked around and abused

control. people take control. they take control of our things, our decisions. they force their will and preferences upon us. no we cant buy that. no we cant eat that. no we have to watch this. no i dont have time now. no you cant go anywhere. no you will be unable to move for awhile. no…

wilde Cunningham, 05/12/2004

“The nine souls of wilde Cunningham”, a group of nine adults with cerebral palsy, wrote the piece above in 2004.

The take-away lesson from this piece is that people with disabilities often have control, in every facet of life, taken away from them. Accessibility options are just a small way in which the world can return that control. The option to have new experiences, travel outside your room or residence, socialize with people you wouldn’t usually get to meet, have a job or run a business – suddenly more of these become available to people to whom it matters most poignantly.

In Second Life they are on a equal setting and we don’t see the handicaps.

Toy LaFollett

Virtual environments which do not show the user’s face nor use voice put more people on an equal footing. What harm is there in ignoring, in failing to display one’s disabilities, when common reactions are those of pity or of prejudice – both of which have a tendency to lead to a lack of control and shame for the disabled individual?

Being in Second Life is how I imagine an innocent man who had been locked up wrongly feels when he is finally set free. In Second Life I get to call the shots.

John S.

Additional thanks go to Shelley Schlender, for her thought-provoking article.

Previous Posts