Making games accessible
Four local Sask. Polytech students develop a game for kids with visual impairment
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.”
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.
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.