I am a veteran and a Googler. I retired in 2012 after a 25-year career in the military, and this week with Google.org, I helped bring veterans with disabilities, and those otherwise unable to travel, their first virtual reality experience. On Thursday morning, we filmed the NYC Veteran’s Day Parade in 360-degree video, and with Google Cardboard, brought together veterans and their families at VA hospitals from Palo Alto, California, to Pryor, Oklahoma to experience the nation's largest Veterans Day parade in virtual reality as if they were there, marching. These #UnitedWeMarch events will continue over the next few days, at VA hospitals around the country.
It was incredible to reconnect with other veterans and even better to see their reactions to the virtual parade. One Marine who served in Vietnam even remarked, "You just took me away from this hospital room to New York. And you didn't even charge me airfare!"
#UnitedWeMarch is part of the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities, which has given $20M in grants from Google.org toward organizations improving the lives of people with disabilities. In honor of disabled veterans, Google.org also gave a $235,000 grant to America Makes to create a training for military veterans to learn the basics of using new technologies to build personalized assistive devices like 3D-printed prosthetic limbs. This is all in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Innovation.
I’m so grateful to have been there yesterday, seeing the veterans temporarily escape their hospital beds through virtual reality and experience the crowds cheering them along the parade route. We'll continue these virtual marches tomorrow and into next week, so that every veteran has the chance to be celebrated.