1) Can you tell us simply, in 3 sentences what your research is about?
I am developing training on conversation skills for young adults with ASD/ID. The training is going to happen with the help of virtual reality. The participants and I will be interacting through avatars, which will be figures that look like us on a computer screen.
2) Why should we be interested in this issue?
Conversation skills are life skills that help anyone, with or without a disability, in their transition from school to independent living. Studies have shown that a Virtual environment can increase a person’s motivation and provide an increased sense of control, allowing participants to be more engaged with the process. Virtual Worlds can improve people’s knowledge, their enjoyment and interest in the learning process. It affords opportunities for social interaction, especially in the classroom by making conversations easy, structured and inclusive.
3) What does it mean to your research career to be an ASSISTID Marie Curie Fellow?
I have worked in different academic posts, both teaching and research, in several different Universities and Institutes of Technology since 2006. I consider my current post of ASSISTID Marie Curie Fellow as the pinnacle of my career thus far. It affords me the opportunity to focus longer term on a project and be involved with it till the end. As a consequence, this should allow me to publish more, promote my work at several conferences and have the time to consider how to keep my current project active after I finish the fellowship and identify a future project and collaborations.
4) What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
If the training proves to have significant positive outcomes, then the fact that training of this kind could happen virtually would allow people to take part from a distance and would increase access to resources/interventions for people with ASD/ID. Moreover, it has the potential to be more cost effective than many other current resources/interventions
5) What is the most frequently asked question which people ask you about your work?
How did I make the transition from physics to special education? Those who ask me about my academic background seem to be either surprised or baffled by the fact I am a physicist and want to know what made me interested in special education and more specifically assistive technologies. My interest can be traced back to the final year of my Physics degree when I volunteered as a Maths tutor for secondary school kids that were deaf or hard of hearing.
6) Tell us something which might surprise us?
I support Mayo in GAA because my grandmother was from the Westport area. It is painful!!!! I ran the Dublin marathon in 2004 in a time of 3:03:40. Equally painful!