"Collaborative networked framework for the rehabilitation of children with Down's Syndrome" (PDF) is an old paper from the University of Averio in Portugal, but the project described is really interesting. Presented at the third International Conference on Disability, Virtual Reality and Associated Technology in Alghero, Italy in 2000, the authors propose "a multi-user virtual communication platform that enables rehabilitation and social integration of Down's Syndrome children."
Using this platform, the kids engage in fantasy play and problem-solve with their avatars; the neat part is that they're playing with other kids who have Down Syndrome from all over the world. So not only are kids learning independently in a virtual environment—"learn[ing] by themselves through experience without close adult mediation," as the authors say—and not only are they collaborating with other people. They're also working and playing with other people who have Down Syndrome. The framework brings people with disabilities together in ways that aren't possible in real life because of geographic constraints. While there's nothing wrong with being around one's "typically developing peers," it's great when disabled people can form communities with other disabled people, too. And self-advocates do a lot of great work.
But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).
Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.