Sometimes, Freedom Actually Is Free:
Soaring Through Life in a Special Space
Finding a support group isn’t always easy when leaving the house is hard enough to do. Kathie Olson discovered that for people with disabilities, there’s a way to hit the road without ever leaving your seat.
Second Life, the online virtual world, offers a chance to create an illustrated version of yourself called an avatar and have the avatar meet people you may never have encountered in the flesh-and-blood world. For people with disabilities it means a second chance at walking, talking, creating businesses, and participating in events that might be too hard to get to physically.
"Other people with disabilities should come into Second Life and find the support that they might not be getting in real life," Kathie said.
Kathie was diagnosed with MS in 2000, and by 2003 used a wheelchair and was no longer able to work. Just a year later her husband was diagnosed with cancer. He died in 2006.
Only a month after her husband's death, Kathie's granddaughter was born. And, a paratransit driver asked if she had ever heard of Second Life. She created an avatar named Kat Klata, and has been happily leading a double life ever since.
“It’s nothing like you’d think it would be. It's hard to describe, but you’ll be amazed. There are stores and clubs, and it's a great place to socialize and make friends. Everything you have in real life you have in Second Life. Probably more!”
Kathie spent three months making friends and exploring, then had an experience that proved people with MS need to support each other in all worlds. She encountered several members who put their avatars in wheelchairs and cracked jokes about people with disabilities.
“It rubbed me the wrong way,” she said. “That’s the night I decided to see if there was anything on Second Life for MS.”
Kat and Hazey Cuddihy (also an avatar name) started the Multiple Sclerosis Help and Support Group. With monthly meetings and close to 150 members, the group is successfully connecting people with MS from all over the planet.
Kathie is quick to remind people that Second Life is not a game, but a world: a place to meet, interact and find support.
“You can walk, you can run, you can fly — all of those things you can’t do in real life,” she said.
The very best thing about Second Life, according to Kathie?
Interviewer Danielle English is a graduate student at the University of Denver and volunteers for the Society's Marketing and Development Department. She was diagnosed with MS in 2002.
Graphic: Danielle Duncan