Mak­ing games ac­ces­si­ble

Four lo­cal Sask. Polytech stu­dents de­velop a game for kids with vis­ual im­pair­ment

Moose Jaw Times Herald - - FRONT PAGE - LISA GOUDY

Four Moose Jaw Sask. Polytech stu­dents de­vel­oped a game for kids with vis­ual im­pair­ment.

As kids, Joshua Couse, Amanda Braun, Tim Trott and Subin Ja­cob loved play­ing video games.

How­ever, they said they un­der­stood that kids with vis­ual im­pair­ment don’t have as easy ac­cess to video games.

Now as stu­dents at Saskatchewan Poly­tech­nic Moose Jaw cam­pus ready to grad­u­ate in June, they de­cided to cre­ate a vir­tual re­al­ity (VR) game for kids with vis­ual im­pair­ment as part of their fi­nal project. The group con­tacted the Cana­dian In­sti­tute for the Blind (CNIB) in Regina and got an im­me­di­ate re­sponse. Thus, Project Vir­tual Re­al­ity for Ev­ery­one (VIREO) was born.

“We’re just try­ing to make a game that’s ac­ces­si­ble to kids with vi­sion im­pair­ment be­cause a lot of games are not tai­lored to their spe­cific needs,” said Braun.

“These kids just want to play games, just like any kid. Games are fun and the na­ture of VR be­cause it’s a head­set that sits very close to your face, it’s the per­fect tech­nol­ogy to use that for these kids and mak­ing it more ac­ces­si­ble.”

Us­ing a new VR head­set the school pur­chased specif­i­cally for this project, the HTC Vive, the stu­dents cre­ated a stan­dard game where the user shoots paint­balls at bal­loons. To make it ac­ces­si­ble for kids with vi­sion loss, they tai­lored a cus­tom­iz­a­ble op­tion screen deal­ing with the num­ber of el­e­ments on the screen and colour con­trast, for ex­am­ple.

“There’s no one-size fits all for vis­ual im­pair­ment,” said Braun. “There’ll be an op­tion screen that they can go through so they can choose what works best for them.”

“In our re­search, we re­ally saw that not ev­ery­one has the same is­sues and they cope with it all dif­fer­ent ways,” added Couse. “Peo­ple may have got­ten re­ally close to the screen ver­sus the farend spec­trum where peo­ple play video games with com­plete vi­sion loss just us­ing the au­dio in the game.”

The four stu­dents de­signed the game from scratch start­ing on April 5. Af­ter each stu­dent spent at least six hours per week on the game, a to­tal of more than 400 hours, the game was ready for its first demo by May 7 at the CNIB Fam­ily Fun Day at the Saskatchewan Sci­ence Cen­tre.

“It’s ba­si­cally just a min­i­mum vi­able prod­uct, some­thing that will run,” said Braun. “It’s def­i­nitely not fin­ished yet but we’ve had the kids test it out. We got a lot of great feed­back. It was a lot of fun.”

Teresa Aho with CNIB Regina helped the stu­dents de­velop the game af­ter they called CNIB. In her six years with

the or­ga­ni­za­tion, Aho said she’s never had this type of project pre­sented to her.

“This has been re­ally eye-open­ing for me to think about things like this as well,” she said. “It’s great that there are stu­dents out there who are think­ing about this … be­cause when you look at how many games are put out there right now, there isn’t a lot of games that are ac­ces­si­ble for kids. So this is, I think, just the start.”

Aho works with chil­dren from birth to age 18 and asked them for their in­put on what kind of game they’d like to see. While they can play Minecraft, for in­stance, many shooter games have many fast-mov­ing parts.

Aho said she pro­vided in­put as to how the stu­dents could have their game set apart from other games out there.

“One of the biggest things is the text boxes. So when you’re play­ing a game, a text box comes up and it starts hav­ing a para­graph to read. So some­one with a vis­ual im­pair­ment may not be able to read that and there’s no au­dio to it,” she said.

“So I asked that if there is text boxes that there is an op­tion of putting in au­dio … so the kids aren’t strug­gling to see what the in­struc­tion is.”

At the Fam­ily Fun Day, Aho said many kids lined up to check out the game. She also said that sev­eral kids who had trou­ble see­ing to one di­rec­tion were able to see some char­ac­ters on their bad side.

“This sur­prised them be­cause they didn’t think they could. So it was very neat to see,” said Aho. “We were kind of think­ing chil­dren with low vi­sion, but we also had kids who had more se­vere vis­ual im­pair­ment who wanted to try it and they ac­tu­ally did very well with the game, which I think opened the eyes of the cre­ators.”

Aho said par­ents ex­pressed pos­i­tive feed­back as well.

“The par­ents were just thrilled that the stu­dents thought about mak­ing an ac­ces­si­ble game as their school project and for it just be­ing a pro­to­type com­ing out, it looked re­ally good,” said Aho.

“Mak­ing some­thing ac­ces­si­ble is re­ally easy to do and it can meet the needs of ev­ery­body. The sib­lings had just as much fun with the game as any of the other kids that were there.”

Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from CNIB, in Canada, there are 18,200 chil­dren un­der the age of 15 who are blind and par­tially sighted. In 2016, across Canada CNIB has 3,300 ac­tive clients be­tween the ages of zero and 21.

The CNIB has two sum­mer camps in July and Aho said the kids would love to see the game avail­able to play there as well, some­thing the stu­dents said they were hop­ing to do.

While ba­sic game­play is done, re­main­ing work on the game is to fi­nal­ize the cus­tom­ized op­tion screen. The tar­get com­ple­tion date is June 19.

Couse said since the project class hap­pens each year with in­spi­ra­tion com­monly from past stu­dents’ projects, they hope new stu­dents will take on a sim­i­lar project, ei­ther by ex­pand­ing the game or cre­at­ing some­thing new and con­tin­u­ing work with the CNIB.

“It feels re­ally good to be do­ing some­thing with the com­mu­nity,” said Couse.

“It feels worth­while. Up un­til this point, all of our projects have just sort of been for the class­room that you give to your teacher to be marked,” said Braun.

“This is some­thing the kids are go­ing to use, that they have used. It’s very re­ward­ing to get that feed­back and see other peo­ple en­joy some­thing that you made.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Joshua Couse (left) and Tim Trott help gamers with their vir­tual re­al­ity game for kids with vis­ual im­pair­ment at CNIB’s Fam­ily Fun Day at the Saskatchewan Sci­ence Cen­tre.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Amanda Braun as­sists a gamer with try­ing out and her fel­low class­mates’ vir­tual re­al­ity game for kids with vis­ual im­pair­ment at the Cana­dian In­sti­tute for the Blind (CNIB) Regina location.

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