Virtual reality training for carers to build empathy for people living with disabilities is being piloted by a disability support provider, entrepreneurs and researchers.
Mercy Connect and the John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research have partnered to investigate the feasibility of the technology.
While recognising that the practice cannot emulate the lived experience of a person with a disability, carers being immersed in a simulation is hoped to build empathy.
Mercy Connect chief executive Trent Dean launched the project with John Richards Centre director Irene Blackberry on Tuesday.
"Irene and I met late last year and it was very clear from the nature of the research done by the John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research that there was good synergy," he said.
"Ageing and disability are closely linked.
"So we had a few conversations about what to start work on - and that led to a conversation about the work we were doing on the virtual reality side of things.
"Unless you validate it with research, you have no idea if it is effective.
"Unless you've lived a disability, you don't know what it's like, and this is just one step amongst working with people and their families."
Professor Blackberry has led the La Trobe University research body since 2016 and said it was incredibly valuable to have industry partners.
"We want to know how to translate the evidence into practice," she said.
"You can't change policy and practice without data.
"The main thing is we want to see if this is feasible or not and how we can embed this as part of training within Mercy Connect.
"We could increase access to training to a lot of people in regional areas who find it difficult to access professional development."
The research follows Mercy Connect approaching Valley General Hospital, which has developed VR training for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
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"This Oculus headset is a newer model, the previous version had a cord that attached to a laptop - there's freedom of movement," Mr Dean said.
"We don't know what it could be used for, we'd like to explore that."
Mr Dean hoped the study would open up opportunities for VR to be used in many settings.
"One in five people have a disability," he said.
"We can use the research not only for empathy and training, but really advocate for change.
"And this [week] being National Carers Week, it's acknowledging that there's numbers of unpaid family and friends who do this work and share that burden but also add to Australia's economy."
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