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This Mom Used VR to Open Up New Worlds for Her Son

Despite the limitations of his body, now he can use VR to see the world.

Tim Bartow is a filmmaker and writer hailing from Kansas City, Missouri. As one of only 100 Americans affected by the extremely rare genetic disorder Lesch Nyhan, which results in celebral palsy, Tim uses a wheelchair. Though Tim has no cognitive impairments, people often assume that he is mentally challenged.

“They treat me like a child when they see the chair,” he said. “And don’t recognize that I have dreams and aspirations like everyone else.”

Tim wishes to travel, to fall in love, to change people’s perceptions of people in wheelchairs, and to change the world through his storytelling, among other things. And while he has never given up on his dreams, the reality is that his physical impairment is a significant obstacle to them. Though he wishes to see the world, he is unable to drive a car or board a plane without assistance. 

Tim’s mother, Liz, has always dreamed of giving her son the opportunity to explore the world. A conversation with lifelong friend Pam Huling led Liz to realize that she could give him that opportunity in a way she had never before imagined: through VR.

As COO of Blue Chalk Media, an award-winning nonfiction production company, Huling arranged for a Blue Chalk production crew filming in a nearby city to add a stop in Kansas City, where they filmed the indescribable moment in which Tim first experienced virtual reality (shown in the video above).

In VR, Tim swam with sharks underwater, sailed on a boat in the middle of the ocean, and flew above the canopy of a lush forest. He immediately began musing on all the places in the world he could now virtually visit, naming off all the places he wants to see: Antarctica, Africa, and Paris, to see the Eiffel Tower—before chuckling and stopping.

“I’m going to need to write this down,” Bartow said.

With the whole world only a headset away, it’s safe to say Tim will be keeping busy for a while. However, he’ll need to keep some time open for the wealth of opportunities knocking at his door. Since the release of the video, Tim has been offered a Hollywood reading of his screenplay, custom technology that can help physically support him, and has been embraced by fans around the globe. His dreams are coming true one by one, including his dream of changing the way people talk and think about others with cognitive or physical disabilities. In collaboration with United Cerebral Palsy, Tim has become an advocate for a life without limits for the socially marginalized.

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