Collaborative co-design and evaluation of an immersive virtual reality application prototype for communication rehabilitation (DISCOVR prototype)

Lucy Bryant, Neira Sedlarevic, Peter Stubbs, Benjamin Bailey, Vincent Nguyen, Andrew Bluff, Diana Barnett, Matt Estela, Carolyn Hayes, Chris Jacobs, Ian Kneebone, Cherie Lucas, Poonam Mehta, Emma Power, Bronwyn Hemsley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Purpose: Virtual reality (VR) lends itself to communication rehabilitation by creating safe, replicable, and authentic simulated environments in which users learn and practice communication skills. The aim of this research was to obtain the views of health professionals and technology specialists on the design characteristics and usability of a prototype VR application for communication rehabilitation. 

Materials and Methods: Nine professionals from different health and technology disciplines participated in an online focus group or individual online interview to evaluate the application and use of the VR prototype. Data sources were analysed using a content thematic analysis. 

Results: Four main themes relating to VR design and implementation in rehabilitation were identified: (i) designing rehabilitation-focused virtual worlds; (ii) understanding and using VR hardware; (iii) making room for VR in rehabilitation and training; and (iv) implementing VR will not replace the health professional’s role. 

Discussion: Health professionals and technology specialists engaged in co-design while evaluating the VR prototype. They identified software features requiring careful consideration to ensure improved usability, client safety, and success in communication rehabilitation outcomes. Continuing inclusive co-design, engaging health professionals, clients with communication disability, and their families will be essential to creating useable VR applications and integrating these successfully into rehabilitation. 

Implications for rehabilitation 

Health and technology professionals, along with clients, are integral to the co-design of new VR technology applications.

 Design of VR applications needs to consider the client’s communication, physical, cognitive, sensory, psychosocial, and emotional needs for greater usability of these programs. 

Realism and authenticity of interactions, characters, and environments are considered important factors to allow users to be fully immersed in virtual simulations to enhance rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology
Early online date20 Apr 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Apr 2022


  • communication
  • communication rehabilitation
  • disability
  • inclusive co-design
  • rehabilitation
  • Virtual reality
  • VR


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