Virtual Ability

Virtual Ability: Support, Collaboration, Research, Community

Group: Virtual Ability
Date: Friday, March 20, 2015
Time: 9:00 – 10:50 a.m.
Location: Second Life Main Auditorium
Moderator: Grizzla Pixelmaid


Virtual Ability is a well-known cross-disability peer support community in Second Life. The community also engages with educators, researchers, medical professionals, and others for purposes related to its core mission: to enable people with a wide range of disabilities by providing a supporting environment for them to enter and thrive in online virtual worlds. This panel will include members from the Virtual Ability community and others with whom the community has intersected for various activities.

Panelists & Bios

Alex Alger (SL: Alex4VAI – Albione Darbyshire)
Alex was first introduced to Virtual Ability through an internship related to the pursuit of his Masters degree in Public Administration. With an array of technical interests and experiences as an IT professional and project manager and a passion borne from growing up in a family affected by disability, he has moved from a role primarily as an observer of the community to an asset and coordinator, still acting mostly behind the scenes, but helping to strategically support both the non-profit organization as well as the many community resources in sustainable and intentional ways.

Alice Krueger (SL: Gentle Heron)
Alice Krueger is a former teacher of regular (sciences, mathematics, English) and special education from kindergarten through college level. She has also been an education researcher and professional development provider. She is now permanently disabled with multiple sclerosis.

As Krueger’s world contracted due to the isolation of disability, she founded the Virtual Ability community in Second Life. She is also president of Virtual Ability, Inc., the nonprofit which supports the Virtual Ability community and its activities through collaborative projects with educators and researchers.

Hillary Bogner (SL: Annameg Resident)
Hillary R. Bogner, MD, MSCE, is an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Bogner leads the “Mrs. A and Mr. B” research project in which the University partners with Virtual Ability to investigate healthcare disparities for persons with disabilities. This project is a mixed methods design, and Second Life is one of the venues used for focus group discussions. Learn more about the project here:

Bogner is also conducting a randomized clinical trial carried out in primary care to study trajectories of depressive symptoms and medical comorbidity in relation to the outcomes of Major Depression and suicidal ideation at 2 years. She also studies depression in older adults with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The goal of that research is to develop treatment for depression that is integrated with the treatment of chronic conditions such as diabetes. She is also a family medicine doctor.

iSkye Silverweb (SL: iSkye Silverweb)
iSkye Silverweb has served in Virtual Ability’s community since 2009. She currently manages the event calendar and Flickr site for the community, and also assists Gentle Heron in planning Virtual Ability’s two annual conferences: the Mental Health Symposium and the International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference (IDRAC).

iSkye is a wandering mentor – while she is a member of several mentoring groups, she helps new residents as she encounters them around the Second Life grid.

VAI is not the only community in which she is active. She volunteers for VWBPE and also for BURN2. She has a passion for quality education, particularly for Deaf children and adults, and for art in all its forms.

In real life, iSkye is a web designer/developer. She is also Deaf. In her spare time, she also enjoys experiencing (and even creating) all forms of art, in all worlds.

John O’Connor (SL: Acuppa Tae)
John O’Connor is Dean of the College of Arts and Tourism at Dublin Institute of Technology (Ireland). He is interested in access to education for isolated communities and the use of technology to support learning. In 2000 he led the development of the first bachelor of arts programme to be delivered entirely on an off-shore island in the Atlantic Ocean: the BA in Visual Art.

O’Connor is currently developing Idea Camp: The Academy of Creative Play, a research project aiming to unlock the power of creativity for everyone. He teaches on the international course “Virtual Environments: Is one life enough?” in Second Life. For more information please see: or

Joyce Bettencourt (SL: Rhiannon Chatnoir)
Joyce Bettencourt is an artist, interactive designer and digital media producer whose focus is where creativity, community, social good and the future converge online. She is the Online Community Manager for TechSoup Global’s NonProfit Commons community in Second Life.

Bettencourt is the Creative Director of The Vesuvius Group, a collaborative studio specializing in developing online immersive, virtual and social environments. She is co-founder of the non-profit AvaCon, Inc., which promotes the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality and 3D immersive spaces. AvaCon, Inc. is organizing the upcoming Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds symposium.

Keao Wright (SL: Keao Resident)
Keao is a real life DJ who volunteers for 2 internet radio stations: The Global Voice and Tree House Radio. She wants to one day achieve her goal of becoming a massage therapist, and to also take part in the music industry in Hawaii. Blind from birth, she has overcome a lot of challenges in her life time.

With a help of a friend who was in Second Life for 5 years, she found Virtual Ability, which helped her overcome a lot of difficult struggles and gain more confidence. In SL, she lives at Creations Park where she works as a greeter, a part-time DJ, and the music coordinator’s assistant seeking out musical talent that have a unique sound.

Keao enjoys being around the music scene in SL, checking out great musicians and having a great time.

Lori Bell (SL: Lorelei Junot)
Lori Bell is currently a part-time lecturer for the San Jose State University, School of Information, teaching a variety of courses in Second Life and other immersive environments. She is also working as an Instructional Technologist at a small nursing school in Illinois where she has designed nursing simulations. She has done extensive work with libraries and library partnership in Second Life. She has written numerous successful grants for a variety of collaborative library technology projects and has planned a number of successful online conferences for librarians.

Bell has worked in a variety of library settings including the direction of a talking book center for the print impaired; as medical librarian for a hospital library; as Director for a community college library; as Director of IT for Alliance Library System; and in several public library settings as a reference librarian, children’s librarian, and outreach librarian.

Ruth Knox (SL: Golda Stein)
Ruth Knox is unconventional. After being a stay-at-home mom when her kids were young, she did compliance work for a local USDA office. Then she went to college and graduated with a degree in Family Science Communication, attended travel school and worked as a travel agent. Though retired now, she continues to be the stay-at-home mom taking care of her disabled daughter and her autistic grandson. As an adult, she was diagnosed with ADHD and mild narcolepsy.

Knox got involved in Second Life through her daughter who read about the Brigadoon Project for autistics. Dreams, run by The Sojourner (RL: Karen Gans), became her Second Life focus. With the passing of Soj in May of 2008, Soj’s real life husband asked if Ruth would continue the program at Dreams. Dreams has support groups for stroke survivors, autistics/Asperger and ADHD. Dreams encourages builders with regular contests. Outside of SL, Ruth enjoys sewing and machine embroidery.

Sandra Winkler (SL: DrSWinkler Resident)
Sandra Winkler, Ph.D., OTR/L, is an Assistant Professor of occupational therapy at Nova Southeastern University’s College of Health Care Sciences. Dr. Winkler leads the “Virtual Health Adventures” research project in which the University partners with Virtual Ability to compare two methods of disseminating a self-management intervention for amputees: e-learning vs. learning via avatar in a virtual world. Learn more about the project here:

Winkler’s areas of interest include assistive technology, rehabilitation outcomes, and health services methodology in rehabilitation. She holds a patent for a force-sensing orthotic electric device controller for power wheelchairs.

Shyla (SL: KriJon Resident)
Shyla is a former storm chaser, outdoor adventurer and comedian who, to pay the bills, developed industry specific solutions and implemented enterprise wide systems for Fortune 500 companies. She continues to work full-time for her employer of ten years in an alternative role with accommodation.

Shyla’s disability results from the adolescent onset of various conditions, including osteoarthritis and degenerative disk disease. Moving into disability, Shyla felt a need for support. Virtual Ability became the group that feels most like ‘home’. In SL, Shyla lives in a tree house on one of VAI’s residential islands and participates in their many activities, hosts presentations and collaborates with other SL groups to provide more inclusive programs.

Suellen Tisdale (SL: Suln Mahogany/Suellen Heartsong)
Suellen is a retired 911 dispatch supervisor from the suburbs of Chicago. She has diabetic neuropathy which causes her to have some mobility and balance issues as well as having a minor heart condition. Stress is not good for us it seems.

Having met her current RL/SL spouse in SL and becoming part of VAI through his knowledge of them, she enjoys the ability to help with presentations and loves to “step up” to help out with presenters by voicing for them. She also enjoys learning things that are offered through presentations within SL. In SL, Suellen raises breedable bunnies, cats and plants, does a bit of writing when time allows, and spends time just relaxing at their home with friends and family.