Amputees have expressed the need for more information on the recovery path that follows amputation. Inclusion of education in the amputation rehabilitation process empowers amputees to make decisions about their options and form realistic expectations. Virtual worlds are effective as healthcare support communities because they provide both synchronous and asynchrous communication, voice enabled technology, file sharing and more, enhanced by immersion in a visually stimulating and interactive 3-D environment. The objective of this research was to discover how a virtual world could be used to address amputees’ educational needs. A focus group of three lower limb amputees ages ranging from 39 to 82 was convened. Data were analyzed qualitatively using the thematic analysis procedure. Four themes emerged: Challenges amputees face, Getting out and doing things, Becoming empowered, and What’s next for the virtual world. The challenges voiced set an important context. While we anticipated that amputees would want both education and support in a virtual world environment, we learned that support is not only part of education but that both are empowering. Participation in the virtual world facilitated getting out and about and getting moving.


Amputee, Amputation, Virtual World, Avatar, Prosthesis, Prosthetics, Focus Group, Thematic Analysis

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Sandra Winkler is an Occupational Therapist, adjunct faculty at Nova Southeastern University, Supervisory Research Health Science Specialist, and Director of the VA Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D) Post-doctoral Fellow Program at the James A Haley VA Hospital Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (CINDRR) in Tampa. Florida. Dr. Winkler's research focus is on increasing access to rehabilitation using technology. Her qualitative interest is how patients' experience healthcare. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Sandra.winkler@va.gov.

Michelle Schlesinger was an Occupational Therapy student at Nova Southeastern University while conducting this research. Ms. Schlesinger is currently an Occupational Therapist at the James A. Haley VA Hospital specializing in vision rehabilitation for Veterans with traumatic brain injury.

Alice Krueger is the founder of Virtual Ability. As a woman with Multiple Sclerosis, she found it increasingly difficult to participate in her real life community. No longer able to leave home to work, volunteer, or socialize with friends, she turned to virtual worlds to fulfill these basic human needs. Ms. Krueger’s avatar in Second Life® is Gentle Heron. Gentle can stand and walk without crutches.

Ann Ludwig is Vice-President of Development at Virtual Ability, Inc. Ann conceptualized and built the virtual world environment for this project.


This study was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Grant # 1R24HS022021, 2013-2017.

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