In Alabama, Easterseals services take a variety of forms, including using virtual reality (VR) simulations from Transfr to help students and adults with disabilities learn about an array of career options and take control of their occupational journeys. Since deploying Transfr in August of 2022, Easterseals Alabama has helped over 1,000 people across their 7 service regions and seen amazing engagement with their population.
The opportunity: Turning to VR to supercharge services
Easterseals Alabama serves the state across seven regional offices, providing an array of services in schools and other settings to children and adults with disabilities. These dedicated teams are charged with helping their clients in a variety of ways, including determining what kind of work they can do and what a training pathway might look like.
“Our goal is to help those with disabilities get into the workforce or to help prepare them through high school,” says Michael B. Woolley, Executive Director of Easterseals for the Birmingham area. “Can they go to trade school? Can they go to college? What things do they like or dislike?”
When a funding opportunity presented itself through the Governor’s Office and the Alabama Department of Education, Michael and other Easterseals Alabama affiliates saw their chance to offer something completely new and different to their clients. Through a connection in the Tuscaloosa area who was already familiar with Transfr, Michael and other stakeholders began investigating the technology and how they could leverage their newly available funds to bring VR career exploration from Transfr to more locations can largely be attributed to the strong partnership that Easterseals Alabama has with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Service.
As an active player in the success of the endeavor, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Service empowers the project by enabling participants to access more resources and support in their vocational journey. This project would not be possible without their collaboration.
“Seeing that Transfr’s VR simulations were already in place in other sites of the state was exciting for everyone here,” says Lynne Stokley, CEO of Easterseals Alabama. “Once we started investigating and got our hands on the technology, we were sold.”
Amazing outcomes with VR career exploration
The response to Easterseals Alabama’s rollout of Transfr has been overwhelmingly positive, from frontline instructors to the students and adults who actually use the headsets. They’re excited to engage with new technology. Immersive VR experiences help them explore a range of career options, including ones they may never have considered. Using VR is also so compelling that Michael reports that student behavior even improves when there’s a chance to use Transfr’s sims.
The instructors have also been won over, even ones with decades of experience who are initially a bit resistant to change. Michael holds regular information sessions to ease instructor concerns over the new technology and get them to buy into amazing possibilities that Transfr offers.
Word of mouth has been another powerful means of getting more schools on board with using VR. When administrators and instructors hear from other professionals about the results that they’re having with Transfr, they get on the phone with Michael or another Transfr champion in Alabama. Everyone who hears about Transfr or sees it in action wants it for their students or other service recipients:
“We don’t have a hard sell,” Michael says. “‘Look how cool Transfr is,’ we say. Don’t you want this for your kids or your adults that you’re sending over to us? And they all do.”
Efficacy study shows that students excel with VR
The amazing outcomes that Easterseals Alabama has in the classroom and is sharing anecdotally are inspiring, but there’s also hard data to back them up. Easterseals Alabama teamed up with Transfr to evaluate student experiences with VR as part of a series of efficacy studies.
Dr. Yun Jin Rho, Transfr’s Director of Data Science, and her team surveyed students at six different Easterseals locations as they used the VR career exploration product. Students could choose any of the simulations offered — Paint Shop Specialist, Hotel Front Desk, and First Responders being among the most popular. The sample group of 40 individuals were all high school students (ages 15-18) with IEPs (individualized education plans).
According to their survey results, students found VR career exploration easy to use. The immersive simulations left them with a high degree of confidence in what they’d gleaned from their experiences: 90% of the students reported they were confident in learning the topics introduced by the sims. Ease of use was another important component of the VR career exploration experience, with 85% of the students reporting that using the VR headset was easy.
“Getting feedback from young learners about their learning experiences is always rewarding,” says Yun Jin Rho, Ph.D. Transfr’s Director of Data Science. “But it is even more exciting to see these young learners so engaged in exploring their future career opportunities via a safe, bias-free environment.”