In 2008 a friend of my dad introduced me to the virtual community of Second Life. When I first started I called it a game but the longer I’m in it the more I realize that using game is a misnomer. Game implies set goals and a finite end. Second Life has neither of those things your avatar can be and do almost anything you can think of to do in your day-to-day life plus some things you can’t including flying like Superman. Dad’s friend had an avatar and thought to tell me about it after he heard me complaining about the fact that my disability precludes me from enjoying things like ballroom dancing, gymnastics, or ballet at anything but a spectator. I don’t remember if I ever got to say thank you before he passed away, I hope so.
A lot of people in my day-to-day life do not understand the appeal of Second Life for me. In Second Life I get to be a person.Not a person in a wheelchair. Not a disabled person. Just a person. The most remarkable thing about me in Second Life is probably that I have elf ears that is it. No whispers, no staring, no finger-pointing.
In my day-to-day life most people see the chair and assume that I have cognitive difficulties as well as physical ones. When I was a child I used to get mad about it but as an adult I understand that is not even close to an illogical assumption. 80% of people with Cerebral Palsy also have cognitive issues. I’m sure the instance is even higher in cases of spina bifida since treatment of that involves a shunt in the brain to relieve fluid build up and pressure a lot of the time. In other words I dodged a bullet and I know it. I am grateful for that every day. However it is nice to have a space where people’s first impression of you isn’t so so highly colored by the necessity for adaptive technology of one form or another.
This is not to say that no one in Second Life knows about my disability. Several people do but I’m very picky. The people who know are also the people I would consider making the time and extra effort to see in person. These people have seen me through a lot. College classes that I thought would drive me nuts. Romances that sometimes didn’t work out the way I had hoped. My mother’s breast cancer, my father’s heart attack. Me breaking both legs. A really bad apartment manager. An equally awful roommate situation.
I may have met their pixilated representations first but the wonderful thing about Second Life is that if you let it it can let you see past the incidentals of a person’s every day life (my chair, living in a different state, country, continent, age difference) until all you see and all you care about is their humanity. Nothing else is really of consequence.