November 18, 2020
Photos by: Bryan van der Beek | Words by: Aditi Ravi Balasubramanian
(Photo above) Cycling Without Age allows seniors and persons with disabilities to enjoy a ride through the community without having to worry about any mobility challenges or getting tired. Volunteers provide a scenic trishaw ride through the city while seniors can relax and enjoy the view.
Sitting on a chair with a big virtual reality (VR) headset over their eyes, Mr Johannes Filal Bin Hussain and Mr Zamak Shari, laughed and described what they saw as they took turns exploring a new reality.
They may have physically still been in the Jamiyah Nursing Home, but they had mentally escaped the home’s confines via a virtual trishaw tour of Singapore.
Mr Johannes, 48, who has mobility challenges and has been staying at the home for almost seven months, said, “Amazing. It was a once in a lifetime experience… I said ‘hi’ to a lot of people and then it became quiet. And then there’s a lot of people again and I said ‘hi’ to them. It was a very fun journey.”
“It was a once in a lifetime experience… I said ‘hi’ to a lot of people and then it became quiet. And then there’s a lot of people again and I said ‘hi’ to them.”
Mr Johannes Filal Bin Hussain, resident at Jamiyah Nursing Home
The tour, which included a ride through Woodlands, made him feel nostalgic. “I used to see monkeys at Seletar and MacRitchie Reservoir. So it was the first time I saw them at Woodlands. So it was amazing,” he fondly remembers.
Mr Zamak, 47, also found the experience fun and liked seeing a lot of people and nature on his ride.
(Above) Mr Johannes Filal Bin Hussain from Jamiyah Nursing Home ecstatically describes what he sees as he goes on his virtual adventure.
This excitement, glee and escapism is what Cycling Without Age Singapore (CWA), a non-profit organisation, wants to give seniors and those living in nursing homes during this pandemic.
CWA was first introduced in Denmark in 2012. The initiative was meant to help the elderly “get back on their bicycles”. However, due to aging mobility issues, its founder Ole Kassow found the solution in trishaws, offering free rides to local nursing home residents.
When Covid-19 hit earlier this year, the Singapore chapter had to hit pause on their trishaw rides, as seniors are most vulnerable to the disease and local cases were rising.
“The senior activities were the first to be put on hold quite early on,” said Ms Alleshia Nordmark, 27, a volunteer with CWA. As nursing homes went into lockdown, face-to-face and volunteer activities were suspended. Visitations from family and friends were also no longer allowed.
“So we were thinking, okay, how can we keep the seniors engaged? And that’s how it all started,” she said.
(Above) Volunteers from Cycling Without Age Singapore and Mind Palace journey through Singapore on trishaw while filming virtual reality content for residents in nursing homes.
Experiencing the trishaw ride through virtual reality
Virtual reality was a natural choice, as CWA Singapore already offers VR programmes to schools and corporates.
In order to create the virtual tour, CWA collaborated with Mind Palace, a social enterprise that creates VR content for persons with dementia. In July and September 2020, CWA and Mind Palace explored Singapore on trishaw to record the video that is viewed via the VR headsets.
As many seniors were using VR for the first time, another important aspect was getting their feedback; and so far, their comments have been quite positive.
“[We’ve found] that the seniors are more talkative, excited and more appreciative of the opportunity to engage with this technology.”
Ms Alleshia Nordmark, a volunteer with Cycling Without Age Singapore
“[We’ve found] that the seniors are more talkative, excited and more appreciative of the opportunity to engage with this technology,” said Ms Nordmark.
Through a survey with participants, the team also found that the VR experiences increased their happiness levels by 34 percent.
(Above) After capturing the sights and sounds of Singapore, a Mind Palace member edits and prepares the virtual trishaw tour.
Now that movement restrictions are slowly easing up, trishaw rides have resumed with new safety measures in place, and some residents have started touring Singapore for real again.
At the same time, CWA has launched a new initiative, Project Iris (Initiative to reach isolated seniors), whereby volunteers or trained pilots go out to the heartlands to find seniors outside of homes who would be interested in joining the community for trishaw rides.
While the trishaw rides have slowly started again, seniors and the disabled can continue to enjoy the VR experience in the comfort of the home.
“We’re really excited to be rolling this out, I think it has a lot of potential going forward, even beyond Covid,” said Ms Nordmark.
“We’re excited to see where it goes. And hopefully we can expand upon it in the future for more seniors around Singapore to try.”