"Second Life is my wheelchair"

That's the money-quote from Seshat Czeret in Feldspar Epstein's piece on disability and accessibility at The Metaverse Journal this week. Really, those five words condense thousands of written words on the empowering properties of a collaborative virtual environment, and not just for the differently-abled, but for the regularly able as well.

It is interesting to note that those with physical limitations and disablements tend to view their own physical bodies as a physical, fleshy avatar far more frequently than those who have no such impairment. To the physically handicapped, the body may not function as it ought, but their minds and persons are as whole and complete as any. Many view their bodies as simply a malfunctioning vehicle, and their step into online avatars in a 3D environment is as slight a transition as getting into a car and driving.

To many such physically impaired users, the body is no more nor less a tool than an online avatar, and the latter (despite lag, occasional inventory loss, network problems and all the other hurly-burly of a virtual environment) is the more reliable, expressive and liberating, allowing more ability to contribute, work, play and socialize.

Why then, do the able-bodied among us tend to see so much more distinction between our bodies in the physical world and our digital representations? Is that distinction merely an artificial one, a handicap brought about by our able-bodied perspective?

Are you a part of the most widely-known collaborative virtual environment or keeping a close eye on it? Massively's Second Life coverage keeps you in the loop.