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Using Virtual Reality to Help Refugees and New Americans

Milad Mozari, Assistant Professor in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Utah, works with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City to develop and teach classes for newly arrived refugees to help them integrate into the community. With over 20 virtual reality headsets provided by the Eccles Health Sciences Library (EHSL), the families in the IRC’s Cultural Orientation trainings have a way to get comfortable with new technologies and learn how to navigate their new city.

Starting in 2019, Mozari began working with the education program at the IRC in Salt Lake City developing workshops around the digital tools that the University of Utah has to offer. “This was to increase the digital literacy within the IRC clientele and former clientele of around the end-of-high-school to late twenties age group, as there was a gap of resources for people of that demographic,” says Mozari. It was important to Mozari and the IRC’s education program to fill the gaps that young adults were experiencing with what educational resources were available to them. It was from these workshops that former clients began reaching out to Mozari with ideas to further increase the educational opportunities available at the IRC in Salt Lake City, and from these collaborations and ideas came the usage of VR to introduce a new city to families served by the IRC.

Through the use of Virtual Reality (VR), refugees learn about new, emerging technology and get an introduction to their new city.

The IRC in Salt Lake City provides orientation and training to newly-arrived refugees with the goals of providing the information necessary for refugees to successfully navigate available services, their local community, and broader US society and to promote cross-cultural understanding while encouraging positive psychosocial adjustment. The use of VR in these trainings started in the fall of 2021 as “a way to begin learning and assimilating at their own pace,” according to Mozari. Newly arrived refugees now have a chance to see and get comfortable with the culture and expectations of common interactions and locations before being thrown into their new bustling city. For example, one of the latest projects being shown to refugee participants is an instructional video on how to get to the Redwood Medical Clinic. The exciting and more hands-on experience of VR, compared to a lecture, also helps participants further explore other scenarios that would be helpful for their learning and provide feedback more openly.

When asked about difficulties with the VR headsets, Mozari noted that before they were able to utilize the headsets provided by the library, they initially had to adapt the technology to cardboard headsets, which were what was available at the time. Mozari also mentioned that one of the biggest successes from this initiative is the generational trust which is being built between the children and their parents. Children often adapt more quickly to the new technologies being shown to them, so in turn they can show their parents.

Plans for future projects between the Eccles Health Sciences Library and the IRC in Salt Lake City include continuing the collaboration with the VR headsets and to test out at-home VR kits. This will enable families to have more time with the headsets and bypass some anxiety newly arrived individuals might have about the headsets by being able to pause the video and take a break in their own home. Mozari also hopes that seeing collaborations like this one inspires more people and groups who wouldn’t typically work together to try collaborating on a project, as it could inspire creative solutions to problems that might never exist otherwise.

To learn more about VR and other technologies at EHSL, visit the Technology Hubs Lib Guide

Additionally, if you’re working on a project and would like to collaborate with EHSL, contact our Technology and Engagement Librarian, Brandon Patterson, at