Associates & Staff
Virtual Human Director
The roots of ViTA DMF date back to the early 1990's with a chance encounter between a young clinical psychologist, Skip Rizzo, Ph.D., and a 20 year-old brain injury patient playing a Gameboy device.
Skip noticed that his patient, who had struggled to maintain attention during traditional rehab therapies, was held rapt by the game on his handheld toy. Skip began to incorporate gaming into rehab regimens and quickly realized the enormous untapped potential of gaming technology to help patients.
In 1995, Dr. Rizzo joined the faculty at USC where he could leverage the institution's considerable strengths in computer science, engineering and cinematic arts to pioneer the use of virtual technologies for therapeutic applications. And in 1999, the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) was born.
In 1992, around the time of Skip's epiphany about the potential clinical applications of gaming technology, Dan and Claire Marino's second son, Michael, was diagnosed with autism. Concerned about the lack of autism resources for families in South Florida, Dan and Claire founded The Dan Marino Foundation (DMF).
Since its inception, the Foundation has been at the forefront of creating and supporting innovative solutions to problems that diminish the quality of life of people on the autism spectrum. At the core of the Foundation's mission is helping people with autism and other developmental disabilities gain employment-a seemingly intractable problem across the United States.
In 2010, when the Foundation learned about Skip's use of virtual reality (VR) to help soldiers recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a software program called "Virtual Iraq," discussions began about how similar VR technologies could be adapted to assist people on the autism spectrum secure employment. Through its innovative research fund, the Marino Autism Research Institute, or MARI, the Foundation provided seed funding to the ICT for the initial development of ViTA DMF-the Virtual Interactive Training Agent.
In 2013, The Dan Marino Foundation (DMF) secured a legislative appropriation from the Department of Education to pilot the Inclusive Transition & Employment Management Program (ITEM).
ViTA DMF proved to be a powerful tool to help the Campus' students gain the skills necessary for employment. 61% (44 out of 72) of ViTA DMF participants were employed, far exceeding the national employment rate of 17.6% for persons with disabilities (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014).
In 2014, DMF invested in the development of a portable model of the system that could be installed onto any laptop or PC at greatly reduced cost in both equipment and man power.