2019 ACT Volunteering Awards

20 June 2019

Annie-Lea Rowley

Annie is the YWCA Canberra Clubhouse Coordinator

Originally published by YWCA Canberra Clubhouse on 13 June 2019

On Tuesday 21 May, YWCA Canberra Clubhouse and two young Calwell High School students attended the Volunteering and Contact ACT  28th annual 2019 Volunteering Awards for the Canberra region. These two young people, who were representatives of a larger group of ten students, were awarded the ‘Innovation Award’ for our that ran last year.

What’s Your Reality was a project where ten Clubhouse members, who are also students from Calwell High School, volunteered their time to be ‘topic experts’ in producing nature-based virtual reality (VR) content for the disability sector. These young people were part of a team with the Clubhouse and ACT Parks and Conservation Service (PCS) to plan, film and produce nature-based VR experiences, in a pilot program providing footage for the New Horizon’s Parallel Parks platform.

This program was highly collaborative and required the Clubhouse members to work in small groups. In the planning stage, members brainstormed the many activities in Canberra Nature Parks, Mulligans FlatTidbinbilla Nature Reserveand Namadgi National Park. Members chose fun and exciting activities they would want to experience if they had a physically restrictive disability. Each group was assigned an activity and a location, and they assessed the different risks involved with each activity. Each group was assigned an activity and a location. They assessed the different risks involved with each activity and compiled how they would address these risks into a document.

Members worked together to storyboard the filming. They needed to think about the different shots they wanted to capture, and what mood and story the film would tell. They worked independently in groups to think creatively and problem solve.

“How can I do more volunteering?”

Using Go Pro Fusion innovative technology, the What’s Your Reality team created a product showcasing experiences and locations, that may be inaccessible to people with a disability or other limitations preventing them from connecting with nature. These experiences were showcased at a camp for young people run by Muscular Dystrophy NSW in December 2018.

The result? At the Muscular Dystrophy NSW camp, 40 young people were able to experience the nature-based activities through VR, all from the comfort of their wheelchairs! Through VR, the young people with muscular dystrophy joined the ‘What’s Your Reality’ team, as they undertook fire training, bush walking, swimming, bike riding and learning about the threatened species of Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

The participants were excited about the project, and very keen to get the headsets on. Once ‘inside’ the VR, each participant fell silent as they were lost in the adventure.

One participant commented that he felt like he was just hanging out with his mates and he had made new friends whilst inside the headset. Another participant was so convinced by the VR video of a boat rolling over, that he held his breath when the camera was underwater! Staff and carers watched on as the room was brought to life through VR – the joy and delight from participants was evident.

“I built really close relationships through this program.”

Not only did students experience film making and new innovative technology, they increased their awareness of the natural resources in Canberra. Many of them had limited experience and knowledge of the activities available to them here in the ACT. More than two thirds of the students had never visited our parks and reserves, and many were unaware Canberra even had a river system. Over the course of the project, they showed increased levels of empathy for diverse parks users and were excited about sharing their adventures with others.

“I never knew there was a river in Canberra.”

The What’s Your Reality team captured and shared their first encounters with our parks and reserves. Students went from being unaware of what was available, to understanding how to enjoy nature, to being ambassadors for our parks. They pushed through their comfort zones and commented they wished they knew about all this ‘nature stuff’ earlier.

In a recent presentation at a high school assembly, one participant thanked PCS for helping her learn how to explore and experience nature in Canberra. She said she never knew there was so much to do in our parks and reserves.

“I’ve never felt so proud.”

The ‘What’s Your Reality’ suite of VR experiences has been provided to New Horizons, who will continue to share these with the disability sector through the established ‘program. This will dramatically increase the reach and diversity of people who will be able to experience our parks and reserves in the ACT.

The two young people who attended the awards ceremony reported feeling overwhelmed with pride for their contribution to such a meaningful project. They did not fully understand the important impact of the VR experiences to young people in the disability community.

“My face hurts from smiling.”

YWCA Canberra Clubhouse is incredibly honoured to have been part of this program and are very grateful for the recognition of the young people’s important contribution to this program from Volunteering and Contact ACT. Finally, congratulations to these students – we are so proud.


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