Man creates computer game for the blind

  • From: "BlindNews Mailing List" <BlindNews@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <BlindNews@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2007 19:46:53 -0400

Reno Gazette Journal, Nevada USA
Saturday, October 13, 2007

Man creates computer game for the blind


Caption: Assistant professor Eelke Folmer sits next to his computer character 
in his office at the University of Nevada, Reno. Folmer is developing a virtual 
game for the blind that uses voice commands. ANDY BARRON/RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL 

It began with an e-mail.

Eelke Folmer, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the 
University of Nevada, Reno, had created a Web site that offered solutions to 
people who ran into problems when they tried to play computer games.

"Then, one day, someone said, 'Hey, I'm a quadriplegic, and the things you are 
doing could help people with disabilities,'" Folmer said.

Not long after that, he joined the International Game Developers Association 
and became a member of its Game Accessibility special interest group.

While some people might dismiss the project as merely providing the disabled 
with a frivolous pastime, it's much more than that, said Michelle Hinn, head of 
the Game Accessibility group.

"Computer games can be a way of relieving stress, but for the disabled, it's 
also provides social interaction," said Hinn, an instructor of game design at 
the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Based on U.S Census Bureau statistics, about 10 percent of the population is 
disabled, she said.

Hinn said she gets numerous calls from doctors of patients, parents of children 
and families of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are newly disabled.

"Computer games were something they really loved to do, but now they can't 
because they're missing a limb or they're quadriplegics or they've gone blind," 
Hinn said. "So, telling them there are games out there for them has worked 
almost like a miracle, but those games are rare and the availability is 

With the help of a $90,448 grant from the National Science Foundation, Folmer 
and graduate students David Carr and Bei Yuan are working to open the door to 
computer games for the disabled.

Their research focuses on developing a prototype that will allow blind players 
to use voice commands alone to navigate through the popular online 3-D virtual 
world "Second Life" and eventually interact with the other "residents" there.

"We just need to develop the right text output, and that is not a very easy 
problem to solve," Folmer said.

The world in "Second Life" is designed solely by its own residents, people from 
around the world who now number more than nine million, including the 
30-year-old Folmer.

He has his own character -- or avatar as they're known in the game world -- 
that can talk with other residents, buy property, build a business or a home 
and visit places such as Paris to climb the Eiffel Tower.

Blind gamers will be able to press a button and a computer voice will provide 
information about their immediate surroundings, Folmer said.

"It would tell them, 'There are two avatars in front of you and a building to 
the north,'" he said. "You would classify what's around them based on its size 
and proximity to sketch (a mental) image for them."

A growing number of universities with virtual campuses online also have virtual 
auditoriums where people can attend lectures, so Folmer's research could have 
educational applications for the disabled. Under federal law, anyone with a 
disability must have access to such educational opportunities, he said.

While Folmer's research primarily targets the blind, he hopes it will convince 
major manufacturers to develop computer games that also can be used by players 
who are hearing impaired or have cognitive or physical disabilities.

It could be as easy as, for the hearing impaired, including closed captioning 
in every game, Folmer said.

"The game industry is very money-driven," said Folmer, who moved from the 
Netherlands to Edmonton, Alberta in Canada before joining the UNR faculty last 

"When you try to sell your research, you really need to convince game 
developers they should make their games accessible to the disabled," he said. 
"And that's what we're trying to do first with 'Second Life.'"

Folmer and Hinn will be making the same pitch next week when they attend the 
Entertainment for All Expo in the Los Angles Convention Center.

The E for All Expo will be Thursday through Oct. 21 and attracts consumers, 
software developers, venture capitalists and entertainment industry 
representatives, including the big three: Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, Hinn 

Her Gaming Accessibility group has been given a free booth at the Expo.

"My job is the mouthpiece, the evangelist yelling for recognition of the needs 
of gamers with disabilities," she said. "I can lobby the president of a 
company, but without people like Eelke, we don't have anything to show them. He 
is the programmer. He creates the solutions."

Help for gamers

You can visit University of Nevada, Reno associate professor Eelke Folmer's Web 
site that describes problems novice gamers, the elderly and the disabled face 
when trying to play online games and offers solutions at

Game Accessibility

Visit the Game Accessibility special interest group's Web site at

E-mail Michelle Hinn, head of the Game Accessibility special interest group, at 

Download free prototype game

Click here for AudiOdyssey, an experimental computer game designed to be 
accessible to the visually impaired and mainstream gamers.

According to the Singapore-MIT Gambit Web site, "the user stars as Vinyl 
Scorcher, an up-and-coming DJ, on his quest to get club patrons dancing. 
Swinging the Nintendo Wii controller to the beat, Vinyl lays down the various 
component tracks of a song, and keeps the party jumping. If he does an 
especially good job, he can even freestyle! But beware: if dancers get too 
rowdy, they're likely to bump into the turntables, messing up Vinyl's tracks. 
Think you have what it takes?" 

The Windows version of the game requires: 

Windows 2000 Service Pack 4, Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista 
1.8 GHz Pentium-class processor or better 
1GB of RAM 
32MB video RAM For Wiimote play: 
1 Nintendo Wiimote (Sensor Bar not used) 
BlindNews Mailing List
Subscribe: BlindNews-Request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with "subscribe" as subject

Unsubscribe: BlindNews-Request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with "unsubscribe" as subject

Moderator: BlindNews-Moderators@xxxxxxxxxxxxx



More information about RSS feeds will be published shortly.

Other related posts:

  • » Man creates computer game for the blind