Researchers from the University’s Department of Psychology in collaboration with Guide Dogs want to recruit young people with vision impairments to take part in a paid collaborative research project.
The project aims to actively involve young people with vision impairments in research about their own experiences, and to empower them to create tools which can address the barriers caused by vision impairment. This innovative participatory research approach will allow these issues to be explored in new depth, enabling the development of new tools and research methods.
As Dr Tavoulari explained: “We have been really lucky with this grant and project as it allows us so much freedom to really follow the interests and issues raised by the group.”
Co-design is a key aspect of this project, combining the academic expertise of researchers with the lived experiences of young people with vision impairment. The collaborative effort between both groups will ensure that the final product of this endeavour maximises their collective expertise.
Dr Petrini, added: “We have designed the group to be very flexible and focused on truly understanding young people with vision impairments. The barriers and enablers they experience during these key transition periods. We want them to tell us what we should be doing and give them everything they need to make it actually happen.”
The co-designing phase of the project will last six months, beginning this autumn, with weekly hybrid meetings lasting two hours. Participants will each receive £100 as compensation and have all travel costs covered.
The researchers will share with the group relevant existing literature in the area, formatted and curated to be easily understood by all. Equipped with the necessary tools and guidance, the group will then have the opportunity to collectively discuss the existing research on vision impairment, providing valuable insights into its strengths and weaknesses.
By sharing knowledge with the working group and empowering the group members to share their personal perspectives, they will be able to influence future research endeavours. Bridging the gap between academic research and lived experiences, the project aims to develop a new tool that effectively captures the barriers faced by young people with vision impairments.
However, this project is not merely an academic endeavour and group members will have plenty of opportunities to foster a sense of community. By connecting people across the country with vision impairment it is hoped they will be able to build a supportive network together even after the group has finished.
Social sessions for the group have already begun. These have included climbing at The Arc in Chippenham, and VR gaming in the University's VR labs. Both events had the dual purpose of giving young people with vision impairment the opportunity to try out these activities with as many of the barriers removed as possible, while exploring how best to remove barriers that still remain.
One significant issue already highlighted in existing literature is the multitude of barriers that impede the participation of vision impaired individuals in exercise, particularly extreme sports. Yet as the climbing event proved, with small adaptations the team are showing how these barriers can be overcome and anyone can enjoy the sport.
One participant said: “I really liked that I didn’t have to listen whilst climbing. I was completely in the zone, because I was scared of the height, but this felt so beneficial to my mental health as I was forced to focus on each step and could not think about anything else. I now wish to do this regularly!”
During another recent event, the university had the opportunity to showcase the potential of 3D gaming and virtual reality (VR) for people with vision impairments working alongside Lisa May Thomas the creator of the SOMA project: https://soma-project.co.uk/, Pilar Santelices a Creative Producer from the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol and Dr Daniel Finnegan and Kirsten Ali from Cardiff University.
Despite the common focus on visuals, these technologies can offer a multisensory experience. By incorporating the full multisensory experience possible with VR, participants were able to immerse themselves into a 3D virtual environment and navigate the space using sound, touch, and vibration.
Feedback from participants, included:
“I had the opportunity to guide my partner, which is rare for a visually impaired person. This validated my sensory experiences and allowed me to foreground them to inform the perception of our duo.”
“Technology could help to make VR platforms, content, and creation tools accessible, but this requires a shift in mindsets among companies and developers.”
Dr Petrini added: “Building on the success of these events, we are excited to begin our collaboration with the working group. Their input will guide the direction of our project. We are proud to adopt a participatory research approach, where members actively contribute as co-designers rather than passive participants.”
The team invites young individuals with vision impairment aged 16-24 anywhere in the UK to join the working group and actively contribute to this transformative endeavour.
Words: Ben Cachin.