[AI] Virtual worlds open up to blind
geetha at millernorbert.de
Tue Sep 18 11:57:12 EDT 2007
I do not think we are missing out much by not having access to these virtual
worlds. It is a good occupation only for people with plenty of time on their
----- Original Message -----
From: "Vikas Kapoor" <dl.vikas at gmail.com>
To: "Access India" <accessindia at accessindia.org.in>
Sent: Tuesday, September 18, 2007 7:49 PM
Subject: [AI] Virtual worlds open up to blind
Virtual worlds open up to blind
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website
Screenshot of IBM building in virtual world, IBM
IBM is establishing a presence in virtual worlds
Online virtual worlds could soon be accessible to blind people thanks to
research by students at IBM in Ireland.
Some estimates predict that 80% of active internet users will be using a
virtual world in four years' time.
The company said that it is keen to ensure that blind people are not
excluded from an environment that sighted people will take for granted.
The students have designed an audio equivalent of the virtual world using 3D
sound to create a sense of space.
They were working as part of the company's Extreme Blue research initiative
which brings groups of students together for 12 weeks to solve problem set
The project - called Accessibility In Virtual Worlds - is what the company
describes as "a proof of concept" at this stage, but it will be passed on to
IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Centre in Texas for further
For their work the Irish team decided to use the Active Worlds online
environment rather than the more popular Second Life (which has almost 9.5m
because it allowed them more flexibility.
Active Worlds is a collection of user-made virtual worlds that people can
visit via a web browser plug-in. Like many other virtual spaces they let
make many of the artefacts, including buildings, found in them.
The research team exploited this ability to tinker with objects in the
online world to make it more hospitable to the blind.
"When the user comes into the world, the items are described as well as
their positions," explained Colm O'Brien, one of the team of four
worked on the project.
"There is also sound attached - for example, if there's a tree nearby you
will hear a rustling of leaves," said Mr O'Brien.
The work also developed tools which uses text to speech software that reads
out any chat from fellow avatars in the virtual world that appears in a text
Characters in the virtual world can have a "sonar" attached to them so that
the user gets audible cues to alert them to when they are approaching, from
which direction and how near they are.
A number of blind mentors have given advice and feedback to the team - one
in IBM's Dublin lab and two based at IBM's research centre in Texas.
The students have also liaised with the National Council for the Blind of
Ireland on their work.
As well as proving that the idea is feasible, the team has made a number of
recommendations about accessibility standards for virtual worlds which
help the developers of the future.
"IBM believes that virtual worlds are going to be the next big evolution of
the web and if this happens...it's not right for blind people to be missing
out on what the rest of us have available," said Mr O'Brien
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