At i3 Simulations, we are proud to announce our collaboration in the BRIDGING project (BReakthrough Interview extenDed reality traininG towards reducing the autIsm employmeNt Gap), led by Dr. Michael Loizou at University of West England Bristol, and leads at University of Warwick, in partnership with NHS Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Integrated Care Board. Together with esteemed organizations like the Kimel Foundation, National Autistic Society, Coventry University, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, Emteq Labs, and Wolfram, we are working towards a common goal – empowering autistic individuals to lead independent and rewarding lives.
Meaningful work has the power to transform lives, yet data shows that less than 30% of autistic individuals in the UK are employed, lagging behind more successful countries like Sweden where 60% of autistic individuals have jobs. Through engagement with service users at the Kimel Foundation and extensive research, we have identified that the interview process and the initial days of work pose significant challenges for autistic adults, acting as barriers to employment.
To address this issue, we are embarking on a co-design and development journey to create a Virtual Reality (VR) package specifically designed to help autistic individuals practice interview skills and overcome anxieties related to interviews and work. By immersing them in scenarios they are likely to encounter, we aim to provide a safe environment for practicing responses and building confidence. The feedback from service users has been overwhelmingly positive, with enthusiasm for this innovative approach as an alternative to traditional support methods.
In the short term, the BRIDGING project will produce a portfolio of immersive VR scenarios accompanied by training materials. These scenarios will be tested for feasibility and acceptability, positioning them for further evaluation. Working closely with the Kimel Foundation, we will disseminate the research findings to other service providers and engage in public events, showcasing VR demonstrations to raise awareness. Additionally, we will produce papers and presentations for academic and social care professionals, ensuring the wider impact of our work.
Looking ahead, our medium-term goal is to evaluate the impact of project outputs on employment. In the UK, less than 3 in 10 autistic individuals are employed, a statistic we aim to improve. Autistic individuals have shared their struggles with job interviews and the initial days of work, describing the anxiety caused by unfamiliar settings and the distressing elements present in the work environment. Through the creation of VR environments, we aspire to provide a platform for autistic individuals to practice job interviews and experience work scenarios, ultimately building their confidence and discovering strategies that work best for them.
At i3 Simulations, we believe in harnessing the power of technology to create meaningful change. Through our collaboration in the BRIDGING project, we are committed to bridging the gap and empowering autistic individuals to thrive in the workplace. Together, we can make a difference and pave the way for a more inclusive and supportive future.
The BRIDGING project site will be formally launched in the coming months, and we will post updates on the project as it progresses!