The Braille Monitor March, 2002
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More from the Technology Mail Basket
From the Editor: Following is another e-mail exchange that will interest parents of blind children and blind computer users. Curtis Chong is the NFB Director of Technology. He recently received an e-mail message raising questions about computer games for blind children. Here is the correspondence:
December 7, 2001
In the article "Technology‑Acquisition Strategies for Young Blind Students," an alert and dedicated teacher stated to Curtis Chong in an e‑mail that she had a blind six‑year‑old who could access the games "Grizzly Gulch Western Extravaganza" (Bavisoft) and "Mobius Mountain" and "A 2 Z" (PCS) on a computer. I found this statement interesting because I had assumed that most software for kids would be inaccessible to the blind due to extensive need for mouse use and extensive use of graphics to communicate to the child.
I have no children myself but work in technical support for a living. I myself am a blind computer user. I have noticed NFB suing AOL for access, but what are we doing for blind children's access to popular games? Does NFB keep a list of games which work well with JAWS and are made by mainstream software vendors for children? Because getting blind adults employed is an important priority, scripts for Word, Excel, and other office applications can be found in JFW and ASAW. Adult toys are supported too in the form of Winamp and chat clients such as MSN. I don't think I've ever seen a script for a children's software title included with a screen reader.
I hope this isn't coming off as confrontational or accusatory. I'm honestly curious. I'm sure there are parents with blind children who would be interested to know as well.
December 13, 2001
Dear Mr. Malver:
I am in receipt of your e-mail dated December 7, 2001, in which you raise questions about the accessibility of computer games to blind children and the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to promote access to these games. You refer in your e-mail to an article entitled "Technology‑Acquisition Strategies for Young Blind Students," which appeared in the December, 2001, issue of the Braille Monitor. More specifically, you mention computer games which, according to the article, are being used by a bright blind six‑year‑old child: "Grizzly Gulch Western Extravaganza" from Bavisoft.com and "Mobius" and "A 2 Z" from Personal Computer Systems (PCS). You say that the mention of these games in the article sparked your interest because you had assumed that computer games, which make extensive use of computer graphics and the mouse, were inaccessible to children who are blind.
I regret to say that your assumption with respect to computer games is right on the mark. In large part, commercial, off‑the‑shelf computer games, whether designed for children or adults, are not usable by someone who is blind. Neither, for that matter, is educational courseware designed to reinforce speech, math, and other concepts. The games mentioned in the article were designed specifically for the blind and are thus fully nonvisually accessible. In fact, they are so nonvisual in nature that they hold no appeal for anyone who can see the screen. For example, consider the "Grizzly Gulch Western Extravaganza" game. While it contains a "virtual audio" environment that is hard to beat (an environment, by the way, which many blind people find quite intriguing), the computer screen remains static throughout the entire game. People who are accustomed to interacting with the computer visually find the game quite unexciting. Perhaps the biggest problem with computer games for the blind is that they do not encourage active play and competition between the blind and the sighted, let alone with other blind players. Instead they are generally set up for one person to play against the computer. This is an area which could use some attention.
You asked what the National Federation of the Blind is doing to promote access to commercial, off‑the‑shelf games for blind children. We are doing what we can to improve access to these games, but we must balance our priorities. We are actively engaged in a variety of efforts to ensure that blind children receive an education on a par with their sighted peers. Part of that education involves access to computer games, but there are also other issues which require attention. The quality and availability of Braille instruction in the classroom must be dramatically improved; the fact that only a small percentage of blind children in this country are taught Braille is a national tragedy.
More and better technology must be made available to blind children as well as providing the knowledge and expertise to use it; we hear numerous horror stories about school districts spending thousands of dollars to buy technology for their blind students, only to find that, once the technology arrives, there is no one with the technical expertise to set it up.
There must be an easier way to produce Braille textbooks‑‑one which allows the blind student to receive properly formatted and transcribed Brailled material on time; being able to obtain electronic copies of textbooks supplied by the publishers might be the answer.
Where should access to games be placed when considering these issues? We promote access to games whenever and wherever we can, but we never forget that the overriding objective must be for blind children to receive the kind of education they need in order to compete effectively in a world largely designed for the sighted.
Thank you for writing to us to raise an important question‑‑namely, access by blind children to computer games. Please be assured that I do not regard your e-mail as either confrontational or accusatory. Far from it. You have caused me to do some serious thinking in this area, and for that I thank you.
Curtis Chong, Director of Technology
National Federation of the Blind
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