Using Virtual Reality to Help People with Learning Disability be more Active

Sport Northern Ireland is delighted to be involved with an exciting new pilot project delivered in partnership with Mencap NI designed to make sports facilities and sporting activities more inclusive through new Virtual Reality technology.   The pilot project delivers new and innovative immersive technology through virtual reality (VR) tools that replicate the leisure centre, gym, sports club and stadium environment by simulating physical presence. It is linked through Active Living: No Limits 2021 to the disability sport equipment and experience hubs located within the 11 District Council areas. While this project will primarily benefit people with learning disabilities, the technology has the potential to extend the benefits to people with other disabilities, people with autism and autistic spectrum disorder, older people and people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.   The projects explores how technology can be used to support the facilitation of sporting opportunities by replicating the environment, activity and processes involved, where individuals experience an activity before actually taking part in it. The experience can be viewed numerous times in the lead up to the sporting activity and reduces uncertainty of an unfamiliar activity or environment.   Working in partnership with Mencap and 5 sites across Northern Ireland; Sport Northern Ireland is delighted to be able to offer the VR experience at:

  • The Mary Peters Track for Track and Field Athletics
  • The Golf & Ski Centre, Craigavon for Skiing and Snow Tubing
  • Riding for the Disabled Association in Coleraine for Equestrianism
  • The Foyle Arena for Wall Climbing and
  • The Bangor Aurora showcasing Gymnastics, Trampolining, Boccia, Wheelie Active, and the Pool Pod.

John News, Acting Director of Participation & Facilities said, “Virtual reality tools replicate a real environment and simulate the user’s physical presence in this environment. Sport Northern Ireland is committed to supporting people with disabilities to participate in a wide range of sporting activities and these new VR experiences provide an opportunity to support someone who may be very anxious of trying something new. Thanks also to the Special Olympics Athlete Leaders and Disability Sport NI athletes who have worked with Mencap to provide the voice overs for the tours”   Barry McMenamin, Regional Operations Manager for Mencap PS in Northern Ireland said, In Partnership with C60 Architects, Mencap developed an innovative Virtual Reality online tool to address the challenge of social isolation of people with a Learning Disability, by producing interactive social experiences located around a virtual model of a town square.  Working collaboratively with Sports NI on this project has enabled us to create 5 new tours of various sporting activities across NI that people with disabilities can experience by walking virtually through the experience before doing it in real life. This can help reduce anxiety by eliminating fear of the unknown and therefore decreasing social isolation.   All 5 Virtual Reality Experience Tours will be available on line at and