The library at Adult Growth Experience day program looks like any other classroom, with bookshelves of well-used short stories lining the walls, mats covering the floors and a neatly written chalkboard containing the day’s math lesson.
The only difference is the students, who range from age 22 to 79 and have cerebral palsy. Some can grasp items, some can rise out of their wheelchairs with a helping hand, but most are severely incapacitated as a result of prenatal brain damage.
For United Cerebral Palsy of Sacramento and Northern California clients like Jody Norwood, a nonverbal woman in her 60s, Adult Growth Experience Programs offer a chance to be surrounded by people who can understand her, attend to her needs and teach daily lessons.
UCP officials have asked Book of Dreams readers to help buy a virtual reality hub from local nonprofit Gamers Gift to help Norwood and other program participants be able to travel the world from the middle of the North Highlands campus’s library.
You think of a body that’s not cooperating, but your mind is there and you’re having all these hopes and dreams and wanting to do things.
Chris Dorsey, Adult Growth Experience day program director
“You think of a body that’s not cooperating, but your mind is there and you’re having all these hopes and dreams and wanting to do things,” said Chris Dorsey, program director. “(Virtual reality) is a window to get them out of their chair. An opportunity to do things and see things, learn things.”
Virtual reality floods users’ visual fields with an artificial scenario, such as skiing a snow-covered mountain or traversing the Australian outback. On test runs using Gamers Gift equipment, UCP-Sacramento clients rode roller coasters and scuba dived through the tropics, delighting in every turn. Future plans include mock space exploration and studying French geography, Dorsey said.
Gamers Gift CEO Dillon Hill, 19, knows what it’s like to dive into a fantasy world. When Hill’s best friend Chris Betancourt was diagnosed with leukemia as a fifth-grader, the boys escaped into video games’ make-believe realm, where sterile hospital rooms and nauseating medicines gave way to life as a secret agent in “James Bond 007: Nightfire.”
Hill, with Betancourt and two others, founded Gamers Gift as a senior at Del Campo High School to give others similar outlets. They sold cake pops door-to-door before receiving donations from local businesses and corporations, and have since taken setups to hospitals and assisted living facilities throughout the Sacramento area.
“VR right now, it’s on the brink of being able to change so many lives, and I want to help facilitate that process,” said Hill, who studies cognitive science and managerial economics at UC Davis.
Other adults with disabilities such as autism and Down syndrome who attend Adult Growth Experience would also be able to use the VR system, said Steve Horton, UCP-Sacramento director, though the organization sees the most benefit for those with cerebral palsy.
“It really enlivens their lives,” Horton said. “They get to experience life in a way that their body can cooperate with.”
Needed: Virtual reality goggles, monitor, cameras and software for United Cerebral Palsy of Sacramento and Northern California.