Saturday, May 30, 2020

Mental Health Mini Film Festival #4 of 4: “A Brilliant Madness: John Nash”

Picture of colorful sticky notes on a cork board

What: Mental Health Mini Film Festival
When: May 31 - June 8
  • We will view each film together, commenting throughout in text chat. Then we will discuss when we are all done viewing. Each film is Closed Captioned.

Fourth and Final Entry!

What: “A Brilliant Madness: John Nash”
When: Monday, June 8, 11:30am SLT
Where: Blue Orchid Cabana Classroom, Virtual Ability island
  • John Nash was a young and brilliant mathematician whose theoretical discoveries have applications in many fields. This documentary follows the life of Nash, the exceptional mathematician who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994 for his work despite having severe mental illness. You may recall part of his story from the movie “A Beautiful Mind.”

Mental Health Mini Film Festival #3 of 4: “Overpill”

Picture of colorful sticky notes on a cork board

What: Mental Health Mini Film Festival
When: May 31 - June 8
  • We will view each film together, commenting throughout in text chat. Then we will discuss when we are all done viewing. Each film is Closed Captioned.

Third Entry!

What: “Overpill”
When: Thursday, June 4, noon SLT
Where: Blue Orchid Cabana Classroom, Virtual Ability island
  • This documentary highlights the effects of Big Pharma and its interests in treating (but not curing) mental illness. The pharmaceutical industry has capitalized on the public's awareness of mental illnesses to sell medications with known severe side effects and the danger of addiction.

Mental Health Mini Film Festival #2 of 4: “Bedlam: The history of Bethlem Hospital”

Picture of colorful sticky notes on a cork board

What: Mental Health Mini Film Festival
When: May 31 - June 8
  • We will view each film together, commenting throughout in text chat. Then we will discuss when we are all done viewing. Each film is Closed Captioned.

Second Entry!

What: “Bedlam: The history of Bethlem Hospital”
When: Monday, June 1, 2pm SLT
Where: Blue Orchid Cabana Classroom, Virtual Ability island
  • This film documents the infamous psychiatric facility through archaeology and the research of psychiatric historians. Skeletons in a graveyard under the streets of London and antique texts help us understand the cruel and inhumane treatments of persons who may (or may not) have been mentally ill that were common from the 1600s up into modern times.

Mental Health Mini Film Festival #1 of 4: “Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated”

Picture of colorful sticky notes on a cork board

What: Mental Health Mini Film Festival
When: May 31 - June 8
  • We will view each film together, commenting throughout in text chat. Then we will discuss when we are all done viewing. Each film is Closed Captioned.

First Up!

What: “Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated”
When: Sunday, May 31, 7am SLT
Where: Blue Orchid Cabana Classroom, Virtual Ability island

  • Demi Lovato is a singer, actress, and TV personality. She acted as a child on Barney and Friends, then in some Disney movies. Now she has released several popular studio albums. This film is a personal look at the star's life including her experience with an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, and addiction.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Things To Do - "Mental Health in Second Life: Then and Now" and Mindful Cove Open House

Picture of colorful sticky notes on a cork board

What: Mental Health in Second Life: Then and Now
Who: Avalon Birke
When: Sunday May 24, 10am SLT

  • Mindful Cove is a new Second Life Community Gateway with a focus on mental health and emotional wellbeing. We offer a vast amount of related resources, developed and curated by real life mental health clinicians. And because we know that play is good for our brains, there are dozens of fun activities, from horseback riding, golf, fishing, dancing, and much more.  Ready to relax? We have three levels of meditation, yoga, exercise, and self-study areas...even a Rainbow Bridge to honor lost pets. 
  • Visitors can go on a guided waking tour, visit with Dr. Birke and our staff of volunteers, gather mental health resources in the Library, and watch slide shows about our work in mental health.
  • Presenter bio: Avalon Birke is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in real life, holds two Masters degrees, and a PhD in Cognitive Studies. She has spent the last 13 years working on a wide variety of mental health-related projects in Second Life. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Things To Do - Mental Health Un-Conference, Week of May 25, 2020

Picture of colorful sticky notes on a cork board
Mental Health Un-Conference

All presentations are presented in voice and text simultaneously for maximum accessibility.
This event is part of Virtual Ability's 2020 Mental Health Un-Conference.

What: The Yellow Wallpaper
Who: Read aloud by John Laughing
When: Monday May 25, 1pm SLT
Where: Cape Serenity Library patio

  • "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a short story originally published in 1892. It is considered an important early feminist work. The story tells about a woman (who would now have a diagnosis of postpartum depression) who is treated as was typical in the 19th century for "female hysteria." 
  • Presenter bio: John Laughing is enjoying his time in Second Life. He attends classes and events, and is learning to build and script.

Things To Do - Mental Health Un-Conference, Week of May 18, 2020

Picture of colorful sticky notes on a cork board

All presentations are presented in voice and text simultaneously for maximum accessibility.
This event is part of Virtual Ability's 2020 Mental Health Un-Conference.

What: Coping with our avatars, and the people behind them
Who: Dr. Nick Bowman
When: Monday May 18, 11am-1pm SLT
Where: Yellow Hibiscus Cabana, Virtual Ability, Second Life
  • A growing body of research has shown that technology users have varied social relationships with their avatars. These relationships range from asocial "Object" orientations in which avatars are nothing more than pixels, to "Me" orientations in which avatars are a true representation of ourselves in a digital world, to "Other" orientations in which avatars represent a companion in the virtual space. Research even shows "Symbiote" orientations in which users blend pieces of themselves with pieces of their avatar as a way to work through uncertainty. These relations are already dynamic and complex during somewhat routine online engagement. In the face of COVID-19 in which many around the world are becoming increasingly exposed to and reliant on online interactions, we might wonder if and how we are shifting our relationships with our avatars as a way to cope with the sudden influx of so many social others online. Following a brief presentation on user-avatar relationships, Dr. Nick Bowman will lead an open dialogue focused on how the relationships we form with our avatars might be affected by the relationships we form and foster with other users.
  • Nick Bowman (PhD, Michigan State University) is an Associate Professor in the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University, where he researches the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social demands of interactive media such as video games and virtual reality. He has published over 80 manuscripts in academic journals and is a regular speaker on issues of media psychology and mass communication research. He is the incoming editor of Journal of Media Psychology and just recently completed a J. William Fulbright research and teaching fellowship at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan.

What: Research in Online Communities: An interactive workshop on privacy and human subjects research considerations
Who: Dr. Michelle Colder Carras
When: Wednesday May 20, 1pm SLT
Where: Yellow Hibiscus Cabana Classroom, Virtual Ability island

  • Belonging to an online community can be good for your health, especially if you have a disability, but do you know the implications for your privacy? What are your thoughts and opinions about health research being conducted within online communities? How can we balance protecting health information that people share with the realities of public spaces that are accessible with only a few clicks? Join Dr. Michelle Colder Carras, a health researcher specializing in video games, online communities, and health research for a frank discussion. Questions to think about in advance are posted here. You can write out your thoughts to share during the discussion. Notes from the discussion will be used to inform designs and ethical protocols for research in online communities.
  • Presenter bio: Dr. Michelle Colder Carras is a public mental health scientist and informaticist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who specializes in normative and problematic media and technology use. Her most recent work has focused on how commercial video games and gaming communities can be useful for mental health and suicide prevention. She is a gamer, a mother, a hiker, and a person with bipolar disorder. You can find more information on her website,

What: Virtual Worlds, Real Healing for PTSD
Who: Anya Ibor/Colleen M. Crary
When: Thursday May 21, 1:00 pm
Where: Fearless Nation PTSD Support

  • A review of how PTSD symptoms can be negotiated, re-framed, and resolved through virtual world activities, creating resilience in people with post-trauma. Slide show, visual presentation in voice and chat. 
  • Anya Ibor, Colleen M. Crary, M.A. in RL, is a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology currently editing her research for publication. A BA in Graphic Design from SDSU and Masters in Forensic Psychology from the Chicago school, Colleen has been focused on the efficacy of virtual reality for PTSD care for over 10 years. A PTSD subject matter expert and group facilitator in SL and RL, she works as a consultant in XR (VR, UI, AR) and Cyberpsychology.

Eyewear and Flu Viruses

Woman with red and yellow hat wearing glasses

Since the lining of your upper and lower eyelids is a mucous membrane, the eyes are one of the major entrances for viruses into the body, from which they can travel into the lungs. (The other main entrances are the nose and mouth.) Therefore it is important to protect your eyes from exposure to germs as much as possible. Here are some ways to prevent viruses from invading through your eyes.

If you wear contact lenses
During flu season, it is even more important than it always should be to practice all recommended hygiene procedures for disinfecting, cleaning, handling, and inserting your lenses. This is intended to prevent you from infecting yourself with germs that might be on your fingers.

However, since contact lenses only cover 30-40% of the surface of the eye, they do not provide protection from germs in the air. You can get better protection by switching to glasses during the pandemic and flu season.

If you wear glasses
Your eyes will be protected from incoming germs in front of you better than if you use contact lenses, but they can still get into your eyes from the sides where your glasses do not cover. Glasses provide much better protection than not having anything in front of your eyes, but are not as effective as a wrap-around face shield.

One additional advantage of wearing glasses during flu season is that it may remind you not to unthinkingly touch your eyes, as we often do when not wearing glasses.

If you do not wear glasses
When outdoors, sunglasses provide similar protection to wearing prescription glasses. Some styles of sunglasses are wrap around, providing additional protection to the sides of the eyes.

If you do not need prescription lenses, you can purchase clear (nonprescription), cheap eyeglasses at many pharmacies or online. They will not change your vision, but they will provide some protection for your eyes when you are indoors in environments like stores or your workplace.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Things To Do - Clean High Touch Areas

Person cleaning stovetop with rubber-gloved hand and cloth

OK, this does not sound like a fun activity, but it is an important one, and you should be doing this daily in addition to your regular home cleaning routine.

What are high touch areas?
Think of them as places you and others in your home leave lots of fingerprints. Here are some common examples:

  • Door knobs
  • Light Switches
  • Water faucet handles
  • Toilet flush handle
  • Remote control
  • Telephone
  • Keyboards and keypads
  • Counter tops 
  • Drawer and cabinet pulls
  • Refrigerator door handle
  • Microwave door handle
  • Table tops

What cleaning equipment do I need?
Disinfectant spray or wipes that contain ingredients to kill 99.9% of germs on hard surfaces
Soapy water (a few drops of liquid dish soap in a cup of water) is equally effective.

How do I clean these surfaces?
In a word, thoroughly. Be sure you wipe vigorously. Get into all crevices and be sure to wipe off all exposed surfaces.

WARNING:  Never spray or wipe liquids on electronic devices such as phones or computer keyboards. Follow manufacturer directions. It is generally safe to spray cleaning products onto a soft lint free cloth just until the cloth is damp, and then use it to gently wipe the device.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Things To Do - Virtual Ability's Mental Health Un-Conference

Picture of colorful sticky notes on a cork board

What: Art & Mental Health
Who: Marylou Goldrosen
When: May 12, 9:00 am
Where: Yellow Hibiscus Cabana, Virtual Ability Island

  • Marylou Goldrosen will share images of paintings related to mental health from various times in history. We will learn a bit of history about the artists and their time period.
  • In RL, Marylou Goldrosen is Dr. Mary Stokrocki. She is a Distinguished Professor at Arizona State University. She teaches at NonProfit Commons in Second Life at her Art Ark.

What: Mental Health in Poetry
Who: Shyla the Super Gecko
When: May 13, 10:00 am
Where: Cape Serenity Library patio

  • Shyla will read poetry by poets with mental illness or on the topic of mental illness or mental health.
  • Shyla began writing poetry at a young age, including lyrical expression. She has been the featured reader at poetic venues within Second Life including Sunday Spoken Word and Circe's. Her work has been published in Second Life's REZ Magazine and in the physical world's The Fib Review. Shyla has an installation of her work on Ethnographia Island in Second Life.

What: Ability Strange Days Indeed!
Who: Coughran Mayo
When: May 14, 2:00 pm
Where: Sojourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability

  • As with most everything else, the world-wide health crisis is having an impact on alcoholism and other drug addictions. Helping professionals are required to find new ways to reach people in need and deliver services. People are sheltering at home, but liquor stores are still considered “essential businesses” in many places, and sales of alcohol have increased dramatically. Mental health problems are accelerating and many will turn to drugs for relief. The economic impact on non-profit and for-profit treatment programs alike is profound, with experts predicting that 30 – 50% of the traditional treatment providers may not survive the next six months. The potentially large increase in the number of people showing signs of addiction as the crisis progresses, along with the likely reduction in resources available is setting up a crisis of dramatic proportion. What will the future bring?
  • Dick Dillon is the man behind the avatar Coughran Mayo. Mr. Dillon has over 30 years of experience in organization management, working with both for-profit and non-profit behavioral health organizations. He is the founder of the Cox CARE Center and co-creator of the Web of Addictions site (one of the first websites to provide accurate information about addiction). As an executive at Preferred Family Healthcare, he created Avatar Assisted Therapy, in which therapeutic interventions are delivered in a virtual environment. He is now CEO of Innovaision LLC, a consulting firm for non-profits wishing to work in virtual worlds.

What: Mental Illness in Literature
Who: Gentle Heron and Draxtor Despres
When: May 15, 6:00 am
Where: Sojourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability
  • Draxtor and Gentle, both avid readers, will discuss how mental illness has been portrayed in literature of all varieties. An amazing number of works of literature throughout history deal with various aspects of mental illness. A booklist of recommended readings will be provided.
  • Draxtor Despres (Bernard Drax in the physical world) is a German filmmaker, composer, and host of the Second Life Book Club. His recent feature film “Our Digital Selves” documents embodiment and place-making for people with disabilities in virtual worlds. He has been documenting SL via short reportages as the Drax Files since early 2007 and is now a contractor for Linden Lab.
  • Gentle Heron (Alice Krueger in the physical world) is President of Virtual Ability, Inc., which is the nonprofit that supports the Virtual Ability community in virtual worlds. She is a former educator and education researcher, sidelined by multiple sclerosis.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

How To - Where Texting and Email Meet - Text someone using email!

Picture of computer, tablet, and cell phone screens

There are times when it’s easier to use email than poke at a phone to text someone.  Possible reasons could be:

  • You do not have a cell phone
  • Your cell phone is broken
  • You can type faster than you can text
  • You cannot text at all
  • Cell phone coverage at your location is poor

To deal with this, cell phone providers created email gateways that can be used to send a text to one of their customers.  You simply open your email application and use the cell phone number and the email gateway their provider supplies to form an email address.

There are two kinds of text messages:  SMS (Short Message Service:  text only) and MMS (Multimedia Message Service:  multiple people or graphics).  Each type of text message requires a different email gateway.  Some providers do not provide email gateways for both kinds of messages.
For example:
Now, where to find each provider’s gateway?  It is not your provider’s gateway – it’s the gateway of your recipient’s provider.  Fortunately, people have compiled a list comprising many countries:  That site allows you to either subscribe for a one-time USD $3 fee and get perpetual updates (in Excel-compatible CSV, JSON, and PDF eBook formats), or you can download the CSV file directly from the site yourself using their handy “download it here” link.  Note that you will need to right-click the link and select “Save link as.”  Or, you can click the link and save it to your bookmarks for future reference (will only be available to you when you’re online, though).

For example, if your recipient uses AT&T as their provider, their SMS and MMS email gateways are and  Some providers use the same email gateway for both.

Here is the best news:  people can respond to your text and you’ll get it in your email!  That means you can have a correspondence with them with your email.  Very handy!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Things to Do - Photography in Second Life

Picture of 12 colorfully drawn cameras

By Lissena (Wisdomseeker), Virtual Ability member

For May 2020, Second Life residents are invited to participate in a series of photography challenges, sponsored by Whole Brain Health at Inspiration Island.

Curated by Associate Director Thuja Hynes (Tooyaa), each week offers a new opportunity to share our vision, creativity, and technical prowess with inworld photography.

  • Week 1 (May 4 - 10):  Visit our Photo Studio and Gallery for Fantasy Foto challenge!
  • Week 2 (May 11 - 17):  Takes shutterbugs out into the SL realm to seek and snap full-frame landscapes with the theme Springtime Alive! 
  • Week 3 (May 18 - 24):  Returning to Inspiration Island, celebrate those whom you admire with the SL Heroes theme
  • Week 4 May 25 - 31):  In the final week we expand our field again to Second Life overall with the theme Tout le Monde, photographing the remarkable social gatherings we enjoy. 

Photo submissions will be exhibited at four galleries on Inspiration Island, in the Whole Brain Health Flickr group, and in compilations. Contact Thuja Hynes inworld with questions. Start here and grab details:

We're eager to see your art!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Things To Do - Attend the introduction to Virtual Ability's Mental Health Un-Conference!

Picture of Mental Health Un-Conference Reminder Board

Thursday, May 7 at 7 am SLT
Gentle Heron will present Introduction to the Mental Health Un-Conference
This is an introduction to Virtual Ability’s 2020 Mental Health Un-Conference that will be held throughout the month of May. A guided tour of the mental health displays and exhibits on Healthinfo Island will include information on how these interactive poster sets are made to be accessible.

Host Bio:
Gentle Heron likes to share evidence-based health and wellness information. Her RL avatar is president of Virtual Ability, Inc.

Thursday, May 7 at 9 am SLT
Jadin Emerald will present Identity, Mental Illness, and Disability: How Second Life Has Helped
This exhibit is a sort of "build biography" — a story of the discovery of a new self as a result of being in a virtual world, after having become disabled due to mental illness. The build is set up like an immersive gallery exhibit that you can walk through and interact with. It includes signs with pictures and captions, as well as objects and demonstrations that show some of the things that the story is talking about. Jadin will give a brief introduction, and then be available for questions while participants tour the exhibit at their own pace for the remainder of the session.

The exhibit is designed to be accessible primarily with notecards that participants can get by clicking any of the signs, and also with semi-transparent ramps overlying all stairs, clear labeling of objects, a pleasant soundscape, and other accessibility features.

Host Bio:
Jadin Emerald is otherwise known in SL by a host of other avatar names, including Jadyn Firehawk, who is now retired from public life to pursue her favorite hobbies and practice self-care. Today, Jadin is primarily a creator in SL with a focus on wellness and owner of Jadin Emerald Design Studio. She also operates the Coronavirus Survival Store, a store that is all freebies and is designed to help people through the pandemic crisis. She has developed a layperson's expertise on bipolar disorder and PTSD from having lived with their effects for most of her life. She is a former faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin, where she taught environmental science. She holds a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers University.

Sunday, May 10 at 7 am SLT
Gentle Heron will once again present Introduction to the Mental Health Un-Conference

Monday, May 4, 2020

Things To Do - Get enough sleep

Father and infant sleeping

Sleep seems to be a simple activity, but it really isn’t. Getting adequate sleep is known to improve your quality of life_. Most adults need about 8 hours of sleep each night. Both too much more and too much less than this average amount of nightly sleep are harmful to your health.

Many factors can lead to poor quality or inadequate amounts of sleep, and that can lead to health problems. However, you don’t need to resign yourself to poor sleep. Good sleep habits, also known as sleep hygiene, are steps you can take to improve your rest. Here are some helpful tips for establishing good sleep hygiene.

  • Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day of the week, whether you are going to work or not. Having a consistent sleep schedule will get your body clock regulated.
  • Use light levels to aid your body clock to establish a consistent circadian rhythm. Try to be in sunlight in the morning, user brighter lights for daytime tasks, and avoid bright light in the evening before bedtime.
  • Avoid naps, especially within 8 hours of your bedtime. If you routinely nap because you get tired during the day, try power naps earlier in the day. But you may have to forego napping entirely.
  • Optimize your bedroom to sleep. It should be a little cool, ideally between 60-67 degrees F (15-19 degrees C) and free from noise and light that may inhibit sleep. You may need eyeshades, earplugs, dark curtains, or a white noise generator. Be sure your mattress and pillows are in good shape, clean, and allergen-free.
  • Create a bedtime ritual to help you relax. You can use meditation, prayer, progressive relaxation, or other activities to wind down. Reading is a good way to relax, but not online. The blue light from the screens of our electronic devices, including televisions and phones, actually makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
  • Use the bed only for sleeping and sex. If you can’t sleep after a reasonable attempt to relax, get out of bed, go into another room, and do something relaxing until you feel ready to try going to sleep.
  • Don’t rely on over-the-counter sleep medications. Frequent use of chemical sleep aids can result in a variety of health issues.
  • Some lifestyle choices can affect your sleep. Regular exercise will help you sleep. Some people find exercising in the evening to be too energizing; if so, schedule your activity for morning or lunchtime. Alcohol and nicotine can both disrupt sleep. Avoid eating heavy or spicy meals at least 3 hours before bedtime, to prevent indigestion that can keep you awake.

A useful resource for information about sleep is the National Sleep Foundation.

If these self-management strategies aren’t enough to help you get the sleep you need, consider asking for a medical evaluation. To find a sleep clinician in your area, consult the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. These medical professionals can diagnose the cause of your sleep problems, often by doing a sleep study, and then can explain the best ways for you to get a better night’s sleep.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Things To Do - Celebrate World Laughter Day!

Male worker smiling

Come celebrate World Laughter Day, celebrated on the first Sunday in May each year.  Why?  Laughter is fun!  Do we need another reason?

Red Skelton, the famous comedian, said:  “Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Laughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations.”

Laughter also helps us in other ways.  It:

  • Relaxes the whole body
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Triggers the release of endorphins
  • Protects the heart
  • Burns calories
  • Lightens anger’s heavy load
  • May even help you to live longer

You can celebrate with other people!  According to the World Laughter Day website, “Come tune up and tune in with the power of laughter and positive energies with like-minded spirits this coming Sunday 3rd May 2020, from 11am until 12 noon, Pacific Time.”
Los AngelesNew YorkLondonSouth Africa
Open to the first 100 people to post their feed, this will be live-streamed on Facebook for everyone to see.

One of the critical ideas of laughter in psychology is the “facial feedback hypothesis,” which states that skeletal muscle feedback from facial expressions plays a causal role in regulating emotional experience and behavior.  This means that simply smiling and laughing can improve your outlook, at least temporarily.

Give it a shot.  Laughter is often the best medicine.

Learn more at Wikipedia or World Laughter Day.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Things to Do - Read

Picture of stories coming to life out of a book
Where stories come to life - BOOKS!

A good way to pass the time in isolation is to read! You can always go back and read classics. Even childhood favorites are fun. When was the last time you read The Jungle Book, or Aesop’s Fables, or The Ugly Duckling?

You can of course pick up and hold a physical book. You might read online printed materials, articles and ebooks. Or you can listen to audiobooks.

You can even visit libraries in virtual worlds. The Virtual Ability community has a library on Cape Serenity that features only works by authors with disabilities. Some are classic books, and others are writings by community members. Here is the SLURL to the Cape Serenity Library:

Here are some resources for obtaining free texts to read.

For free ebooks:

If you are a fan of mangas:

Here are comics to enjoy:

Here are some book lists if you need suggestions of titles you might enjoy or learn from.

And last, twenty free audiobooks everyone should listen to:

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

How to Write a Sympathy Letter or Letter of Condolence

Pink rose lying on marble stone

Why you should write

A condolence letter is a way to express your sympathy for a person who is grieving the death of a loved one. It can be comforting to the recipient to know that they are in your thoughts; you are acknowledging their grief. Additionally, your letter honors the person who has died. Your note of sympathy won’t alleviate the grieving person’s pain, but it will provide a measure of comfort during the grief process.

Why you might want to write a shorter note instead of a letter

If you do not know either the deceased person or the recipient of your note well, and your statement of sympathy is a social formality, write a short note instead of a longer letter. Follow the same guidelines (below) for the content of a condolence letter, focusing on items 1, 2, 3 and 6.

When you should not write a condolence letter

It is generally not appropriate to write a sympathy note to someone you do not know or with whom you have only a passing acquaintance. In fact, a research study of the impact of an intensive care physician or nurse writing a condolence note to relatives of people who died in an intensive care unit increased the recipients’ depression and PTSD symptoms.

What you should include in a sympathy letter

Finding the right words to write in a sympathy letter can be difficult for many of us. The emotion of sympathy may come easier than expressing that emotion. You will want to be sincere and genuine, while being sensitive to the recipient. You may feel more comfortable about your message if you write out a draft first before copying it neatly. Think about what you would want to hear from a friend, family member or coworker if you were in the letter recipient’s place. Your words should come from your heart; there is no need to be fancy.

Yes, sympathy cards are available in stores, but they are entirely too impersonal. You can use one, but should include a handwritten note on the card, or a handwritten letter on a piece of stationery folded inside the card.

The letter can be addressed to the single grieving person or to the family as a whole.

Here are the six common components of a condolence letter.

  1. Acknowledge the death. Don’t use euphemisms for death; we all understand what they mean. Personalize your letter by using the name of the person who has died.
  2. Express sincere sympathy. (Remember, you do not know how the recipient of your letter is feeling, so you can admit that.) It is usually not appropriate to empathize.
  3. Provide a detail about the person who has died. If you knew him or her, write some of your memories of that person. What were his or her special qualities? If you only know the letter’s recipient, write about how much the person who died meant to the recipient.
  4. Remind the person you are writing to of their own strengths and good qualities. This can help them remember or learn how to deal with their grief.
  5. Give a concrete offer to help, if you can. Think of specific practical assistance you can provide.
  6. End your letter with an active thought, hope or statement of support. Show that your letter is not meant to end your involvement with the recipient. Remember that your letter is intended for the living, not the dead.

There are many online templates for condolence letters. Feel free to use one that offers a fill-in-the blank format, but personalize it as much as you can.

What you should not include in a condolence letter

Unless you are a member of the same faith as the recipient of the letter, avoid any religious wording or overtones. You should also avoid trite phrases such as “it’s for the best” or “these things happen for a reason.”

Remember that everyone grieves in their own way and at their own pace. Provide support, but don’t be pushy. Avoid discussing the cause of death.

Don’t make a generic offer of help such as, “Call me if there is anything I can do.” This puts the burden of calling on the person who is grieving. Instead, be specific with offers such as “I will bring a tray of cookies over tomorrow for your guests,” or “I will stop by next week to mow your lawn (or take you grocery shopping).”

Another thing to remember about supporting someone who is grieving

Before you begin writing your condolence letter, enter your friend's name into your calendar approximately 3 months and 6 months from the date of the death. This will remind you to make contact again. Many grieving people have felt that they are surrounded by support and love in the days immediately following their loss, but then they find themselves grieving and feeling alone in the weeks and months following, as if everyone seems to have forgotten the cause of their grief. Be a good friend and offer ongoing support.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Things To Do - Watch Zoo Animals

Black movie projector on pink background

Sure you can see the cutest YouTube kitten and hedgehog videos, but since we can’t get out and walk through a zoo, watching live cams will have to stand in, without the odors. Sometimes the cameras catch a zookeeper at work.

Hint: If the animal you want to watch is not visible when you turn on the web cam, try at a different time of day. Some animals are more active at dawn and dusk than at mid-day. And remember, the animals may not be in your time zone!

Here are some zoo cams you might want to check out.

Do you enjoy watching the zoo animals? Remember that now the zoos are closed to the public, they have no income… but the costs of feeding and caring for the animals continue. If you are able to do so, please consider donating to your local zoo.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Things To Do - “Listen to this!”

Green frog on lily pad singing and playing guitar

A Virtual Ability community member recommends viewing these coronavirus/quarantine music videos.

Hello (from the Inside)

Neil Diamond - "Hands... washing hands"

One Day More (Les Mis family parody)

My Corona by Chris Mann

Clay Agnew - Social Distance

The Kiffness - Lockdown Rhapsody

Beauty And The Beast- The Corona Version

"Stayin' Inside" - Corona Virus Bee Gees Parody

My Corona Home - ("Kokomo" Parody Song)

Things To Do - Visit HealthInfo Island in Second Life to learn about many health-related topics!

Of particular interest in these pandemic days, you might want to check out the displays at Virtual Ability's HealthInfo Island on stress and on vaccines.

Did you know that April is the month for Autism, Occupational Therapy, Sjogren's Syndrome and organ donation awareness, and many other things.





So may topics to learn about this month.  Come visit!  To join Second Life please visit the Virtual Ability web page.

Things To Do - Post a Heart in Your Window

Red and pink paper hearts
Makes you feel better already

Sister Abeyante suggests participating in this activity to show we care about our neighbors.

This activity was begun by a woman in North Dakota. You can read about it on her Facebook page. It’s very simple, so simple a child could do it.

Make a heart. Could be a simple cut-out shape, a crayon or marker drawing, or a fancy collage creation. Hang it in your window. Take a picture and send it in.

What else can you do? Trade snapshots of the hearts in your windows with your social media friends. If you are able to take a walk, see how many hearts you can spot in your neighborhood. You can even make a scavenger hunt by looking at what all the neighbors have in their windows.

Just remember to keep your distance from other people’s artwork.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

What to do if your Internet seems slow

  • What is the problem?
    • Video you watch hesitates where it never used to. Second Life does not resolve objects quickly. Group chat barely works. Websites take longer than expected to load. Internet activities just seem slower overall and online gaming of any kind has become somewhat problematic.
  • What are the causes?
    • Too many devices at home
      More devices were purchased recently for your home. Now there isn’t enough bandwidth available for all devices to stream smoothly.
    • Too many people streaming/gaming in your home
      With people being sent home from work these days perhaps more people are using the Internet at your home. Now everyone’s connected experience isn’t very good anymore.
    • All your neighbors are also on the Internet
      Your Internet connection is not used only by your household. Once the cable is outside your home, the bandwidth is shared by you and a certain number of your neighbors. Your Internet Service Provider does not provide the maximum bandwidth per household as a maximum available on their Internet connection. They don’t do 50 Mbps times 150 customers equals 7500 Mbps. Instead, they calculate how much is used at peak, on average, and supply something close to that. That means if people on that segment of the Internet connection use more bandwidth than the ISP allowed for, everyone’s effective bandwidth will be lower than they expect. With many more people at home these days, this happens more and more often.
  • How to test!
    • This sounds drastic, but it's for everyone's greater good:  have everyone turn off their devices and/or computers for a few minutes except for one computer (not an Android or Apple IOS phone or tablet). Do this to make sure your test results are good.
    • Go to the one computer and open your favorite web browser. Head to When the page finishes loading there will be a large "GO" button in the middle. Click that and your test will begin.
    • What you get:  relatively accurate upload and download speeds for your Internet connection. It should be very close to what your contract with the ISP says you should get. If not, reboot the home router and try again.
    • If you continue to experience slowness, contact your Internet Service Provider and tell them what you've done already. That will speed things up.
  • Possible solutions!
    • Try turning off some of the devices
      Turning off some of the devices in your home that aren’t required at that moment, such as security cameras, computers, or tablets that aren’t being used, may help.
    • Ask people to stop streaming/gaming
      If you’re working at home and it has become difficult to complete tasks, see if someone in your house is streaming video or gaming online. Ask them to stop until you’re done with work or set up a lunch break schedule when they can go back online.
    • Reboot your router
      The device your Internet Service Provider sells or rents to you (a home router) is not corporate-class equipment and occasionally needs to be turned off and then back on. If that doesn’t happen, performance can become erratic. See if your home router can be configured to reboot on a schedule. Otherwise, unplug your home router from power, wait 30 seconds, plug it back in, and wait until all the lights are green. Then see whether performance improves.

      Note:  Doing that will disconnect all the devices in your home from the Internet. If rebooting the router fixes the problem, then it may have just been the same as asking people to stop streaming/gaming or turning unused devices off. If performance starts to drop off over time, then you may wish to commandeer devices around your home and make sure they are off.
    • Replace your router with a better model
      Home routers are not designed to be used for more than a few years. Your Internet Service Provider may have changed communication protocols that affect your home router. Your device may simply begin failing. If you find you’re having to reboot your home router on a regular basis just to make it work, then it’s time for a replacement. Investigate whether you can buy your own home router (so you don’t pay ongoing rental fees). If that isn’t possible, return the one you have to your provider and get a new one.
    • Upgrade your service
      You may have to bite the bullet and upgrade your Internet bandwidth. This may also necessitate getting a new home router to handle the increased bandwidth. A side effect may be increased connection speed to your home router.

      However, be wary of purchasing Wifi 6 routers because unless you’re paying for a multiple gigabit per second Internet connection it will not be useful to you. Well, unless you’re (a) using all Wifi 6 devices, (b) doing large file transfers internally on your home network, and/or (c) your household does a lot of device-to-device gaming.

Friday, March 27, 2020

National Disability Institute Financial Resiliency During Coronavirus Survey

National Disability Institute logo

The National Disability Institute (NDI) recently conducted two listening sessions to learn about the impact of the Coronavirus crisis on the disability community (people with disabilities, family members, nonprofit service providers and public agency directors).

At those sessions, Senator Robert Casey’s staff and federal leaders from the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Labor shared what Congress and federal agencies are doing to respond to the disability community’s needs, as they understand them.

NDI shares what they learned from the listening sessions:

Download NDI’s Center for Disability-Inclusive Community Development two-pager on Promoting Financial Health and Resiliency for People with Disabilities and Their Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

You can still voice your thoughts on the subject:

Things to Do - Color It!

Picture of colorful autumn leaves
Nature in color - autumn leaves

Coloring can be an engaging activity for children and adults, whether using crayons, markers, colored pencils, or watercolor paints. You can stay inside the lines or not, it is your artistic choice.

You can start by making your own coloring sheet, or trade line-drawing sheets with another amateur artist in your household. Not good at drawing representative art? Grab a pencil, hold it over a blank sheet of paper, close your eyes, and do some scribbling. You’ve just created outlines for a wonderful abstract coloring page.

One of our Virtual Ability community members found this list of coloring pages from museums. Lots of detail in some of these line drawings, enough to keep the colorist occupied for quite some time. Check them out here:

You can also look up “adult coloring pages” in an internet search to find pages to download. This site has great outline drawings of various complexity, on a wide variety of themes:

Get out those colored pencils, and have fun!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Explaining COVID-19 in Their Language

People in the US who are Deaf are raised with American Sign Language (ASL) as their first language. For ASL-fluent Deaf persons, written English is a second language, if they learn it at all. It is important for Deaf individuals to receive information about the COVID-19 pandemic and measures they should use to protect themselves from infection in their first language. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has produced five videos in ASL for the Deaf community. View them here:

Children of all ages have been impacted by the many changes in their daily routines due to the spread of the novel coronavirus and measures taken to combat the pandemic. This understandably creates stress, so communicating with children should always be done in a calm manner. Let them take the lead by answering their questions when they come up with reassurance that adults are working to keep them safe. Emphasize hand-washing and other hygiene practices that they should have been doing all along. Take the opportunity to do fun things as a family if you are staying home together, but try to establish a consistent daily routine.

The National Association of School Psychologists has produced this parent resource to aid adults in explaining the COVID-19 pandemic situation to children of various ages:

Some persons need information about the COVID-19 pandemic and how to protect themselves provided in plain language. Green Mountain Self-Advocates is a group of people with developmental disabilities and their allies, based in Vermont. They have produced a PDF booklet that explains COVID-19 in simple words and images. It is available here: 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Things to do: (US) Disability Community Listening Sessions

National Disability Institute logo

(US) Disability Community Listening Sessions

Join National Disability Institute (NDI) and partnering organizations for a Listening Session to learn from individuals with disabilities, family members, disability service providers and public agency leaders about the current impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. We will hear from staff from the Office of U.S. Senator Bob Casey, who is working on legislation to respond to the needs of the disability community.

Individuals with disabilities and others with chronic health conditions are the most vulnerable populations susceptible to the Coronavirus.

Please help identify the needs, develop solutions and document for Congress and federal officials the challenges of:

  1. Access to testing and health services
  2. Access to prescription drugs and services part of usual routine
  3. Loss of income from furloughs or termination of employment
  4. Social isolation and mental health
  5. Access to online communication
  6. The new normal of virtual life
  7. Limited access to needed personal assistance
  8. Adverse impact to disability service provider agencies
  9. Other aspects of change and their adverse consequences

Please register for one or both webinars:

Session #1: Tuesday, March 24 at 11am SLT:

Session #2: Wednesday, March 25 at 3 PM ET:

Partnering Organizations:

  • American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) 
  • American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR)
  • Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) 
  • Autism Society of America 
  • Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law 
  • Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination (CPSD) 
  • National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD)
  • National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)
  • National Disability Rights Network (NDRN)
  • National Down Syndrome Congress
  • United Spinal Association
  • World Institute on Disability (WID)

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Things To Do - SL Photography Friendship Challenge

Two people shaking hands on either side of a computer screen

Friendship is an important facet of our lives, and particularly so during times of stress and crisis.

Strawberry Linden has issued a challenge related to “virtual” friendships (we all know they can be real). Document one of more of your SL friendships with a snapshot taken in-world and share it with others.

You can read all about this challenge here: