1993 VR Conference Proceedings

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Opening Remarks: Virtual Reality and Persons with Disabilities Conference

San Francisco Airport Marriott Hotel, June 17, 1993
Harry J. Murphy, Ed. D.
Conference Director and Founder

CENTER ON DISABILITIES
California State University, Northridge (CSUN)
18111 Nordhoff Street - DVSS
Northridge, CA 91330
Phone: 818 885 2578 V/TDD
FAX: 818 885 4929

Why a conference on Virtual Reality and Disabilities in San Francisco?

As many of you know, the Center On Disabilities at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) conducts a very large conference in Los Angeles each March, on "Technology and Persons with Disabilities." At our most recent conference in March of 1993, more than 2,000 persons were in attendance. There were more than 200 speakers and 120 exhibit stations. People came from almost every state and 25 foreign countries.

At our March, 1991 conference on technology and disability, Ted Saenger, former president and CEO of Pacific Bell, keynoted the conference on the subject of "Virtuality." He talked about the Virtual Office and the potential for persons with severe disabilities to be productive from their homes. He talked about Virtual Reality and its promise for everyone, but especially persons with disabilities.

At our March, 1992 conference, Jaron Lanier gave the keynote address on Virtual Reality and Disabilities and led a 'mini-conference' within our larger conference on the subject. Twelve papers were compiled into a Proceedings. You all have a copy of that in your registration packets today.

At our March, 1993 conference, we again addressed the subject of Virtual Reality and Persons with Disabilities. Ben Delaney of CyberEdge Journal and Walter Greenleaf of Greenleaf Medical Systems led panels of speakers at that meeting.

We were encouraged to see applications of Virtual Reality and Virtual Reality technologies with persons with disabilities. For example, John Trimble uses "full blown" 3-D Virtual Reality to look at architectural renderings from the viewpoint of a wheelchair user. He will be recognized for that effort this evening with a national award from CyberEdge Journal. Gloves are being used as communication devices. A Head Mounted Display is being used as an enhancement device for persons with low vision. As you look at the conference program, you will find other creative applications -- growing evidence that Virtual Reality has something to offer people with disabilities.

It seemed that the timing was right for a conference devoted entirely to the issue of Virtual Reality and Disability, so this is an effort to bring together a mix of people who could meet each other and share ideas. In this room are CEO's of Virtual Reality companies and people who work with or who are interested in Virtual Reality, and people with disabilities and others who work with or who are interested in the field of disability.

Some clients of the Department of Rehabilitation -- people with disabilities -- are here. Counselors from the Department of Rehabilitation -- those who seek out training programs and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities -- are here. Some parents of children with disabilities are here.

Here is an opportunity for the field of disability to influence the design and application of Virtual Reality technologies. Here is an opportunity for people with disabilities to meet face to face with hardware and software developers to talk about practical applications that may assist them in the ways they live, work, learn, and play.

Here also is an opportunity for companies that deal with Virtual Reality to reach out for interested and qualified persons with disabilities as employees. In the vicinity of the Conference Registration Area is a Message Board. Employers with openings, and persons seeking employment should feel free to put up notices on that board.

I think we have many excellent presentations and demonstrations on the program. Yet, we all know that the real power of a conference comes about when you start meeting new people, and you share an idea over a cup of coffee, and you collect a business card, and you give somebody a call next month, and you visit each other, and you start thinking about how you might work together. And, if all of this happens, I look forward to a lot of new and exciting presentations next year when we do this again.

There are people here today from 11 foreign countries. We welcome them and thank them for traveling so far to share and learn with us. Let me point out that Magnus Magnusson, of the Aphasia Society of Sweden -- in conjunction with Stockholm University and the Nordic Center for Development of Technical Aids for the Disabled in Finland --is putting on the "Nordic Conference on Virtual Reality and Disability" in Stockholm, October 25-26, 1993. CSUN supports the Nordic Conference and we encourage you to do so, also.

Why San Francisco? After all, California State University, Northridge is in southern California, almost 400 miles south of here. We are here because a number of influential leaders in the Virtual Reality community urged us to use Silicon Valley as a venue. It is close to their work and easy for them to pop in and out of conferences up and down Highway 101, just a short distance from here. They said if we put it here, they would support it. We did. They did, too, and we are grateful to them for their support.

On December 11, 1992, a Planning Committee of 22 persons met over lunch at the Westin Hotel down the street. At that time, a target of 20 papers and 150 people in attendance were considered the criteria for a successful meeting. We actually have closer to 40 papers and 300 people in attendance today. Given that, I would like to announce the Second Annual, "Virtual Reality and Persons with Disabilities" conference, to be held at this same hotel, June 9-10, 1994.

I am grateful to the administration of CSUN for supporting the formation of the CENTER ON DISABILITIES, this conference, our annual conference in March, and a number of grants and contracts that have come to the Center. We have a new president, Dr. Blenda Wilson, and a new vice-president of Student Affairs, Dr. Ron Kopita. They are enthusiastic supporters of the CENTER ON DISABILITIES. Dr. Fred Strache, Associate Vice-President of

Student Affairs, has been a staunch supporter and friend of our programs for a decade. We think so highly of Fred that the CENTER ON DISABILITIES has named its national leadership award after him. We look forward to his support over the next ten years, and more.

I am grateful to the members of the Planning Committee of this conference and its co-sponsors: Greenleaf Medical Systems, CyberEdge Journal, the California Department of Rehabilitation, Pacific Bell, the TRACE R&D Center at the University of Wisconsin, and Prairie Virtual Systems, Inc.

I am grateful also -- I am grateful, especially -- to the staff of the CENTER ON DISABILITIES. Jodi Johnson, Karen Whittaker, Bob Richards, Tom Lawrence, and Peggy Woods have skillfully created the infrastructure to support this conference back in southern California and are here today to see that things go smoothly.

I thank you for coming and wish you a successful conference.

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