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High school students design a virtual disability simulation with a game engine

This is video of a virtual disability simulation; its object is to get a character who uses a wheelchair from one end of a city to the other. The simulation uses the Cube 2 engine. It was designed in the summer of 2007 by Project Beta, a team of Philadelphia high school students involved in the Building Information Technology Skills (bITS) program. bITS is sponsored by the Information Technology and Society Research Group (ITSRG) at Temple University.

Disabled gamer case study: Why I like the games I like

A lot of games I like are about running around finding things. Although I only know where a few places are in my town and go everywhere else with my mother or a friend, I've remembered the layout of Hyrule in A Link to the Past without having played it for years. While I have a lot of trouble navigating 3-dimensional space that I'm physically in, it's much easier to find my way around a 2D expanse on a screen.

A lot of games I like are about running around finding things. Although I only know where a few places are in my town and go everywhere else with my mother or a friend, I've remembered the layout of Hyrule in A Link to the Past without having played it for years. While I have a lot of trouble navigating 3-dimensional space that I'm physically in, it's much easier to find my way around a 2D expanse on a screen.

Wii, PS3 used in therapy for kids with cerebral palsy

A case study conducted by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and published in the October 2008 issue of the American Physical Therapy Association's journal found that when a teenage boy with cerebral palsy played Wii Sports as part of his regular therapy, "there were positive outcomes at the impairment and functional levels," according to the abstract.

While I couldn't find a full-text version of the article, SpecialKids.com reports on the study in more detail:

[T]he patient was a 13-year-old male with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy. In a school-based setting, he participated in 11 training sessions, over a four-week period, using the Wii while continuing to receive physical and occupational therapy. The sessions were each between 60 and 90 minutes long and used the Wii sports games software, which offers boxing, tennis, bowling, and golf. He trained in both standing and sitting positions.
“ 'Improvements in visual-perceptual processing, postural control, and functional mobility were measured after training,'” the researchers reported.

ZAC: A web browser for autistic children

John LeSieur's six-year-old grandson Zackary was overwhelmed by computers: too many options, too many colors, too much stuff in general to keep track of. Zachary has autism, and LeSieur tried to find a web browser that would be less confusing. When he couldn't find such a browser for Zackary, he made one.

Could force feedback joysticks help disabled gamers?

Via Second Life for the Visually Impaired

The Novint Falcon may look like a space helmet with a robot arm sticking out of it, but it's really a kind of joystick that lets players "feel" the games they're playing: "When you hold the Falcon’s detachable Grip and move your cursor to interact with a virtual object, environment, or character, motors in the device turn on and are updated approximately 1000 times a second, letting you feel texture, shape, weight, dimension, and dynamics."

Anyone who's played Nintendo 64 games with the Rumble Pack or turned on the rumble feature in their PS2 DualShock controller has some idea of how force-feedback or haptic technology can influence gaming, but the Falcon takes this technology to a whole new level:

Hold the Falcon's interchangeable Grip and feel a character's actions, instead of controlling a game with mouse-clicks and meters. Feel the weight of a basketball as you shoot it towards a hoop-the momentum and impact as you swing a virtual golf club and strike a ball-the recoil of a weapon-or the physical characteristics of virtual objects and environments.

Vocal Joystick lets physically disabled control a computer mouse with their voice

On August 22, 2008, University of Washington Electrical Engineering Ph.D candidate Jon Malkin spoke about the Vocal Joystick (VJ) project at the Gnomedex 8.0 tech conference:

School for the deaf uses PSPs in the classroom

At the Longwill School for the Deaf in Birmingham, England, students study in both British Sign Language (BSL) and English. According to a Futurelab article, they communicate in these two very different languages with the help of PlayStation Portables.

Last year, the school borrowed some units from the Birmingham East City Learning Centre; the deputy head thought that, among other things, the PSP would be good for teaching sign language to the students' hearing siblings. For instance, an instructor could make sign language videos for the kids to play on their systems, and the kids could practice by signing into their PSPs' integrated video cameras. The PSP has also become a portable notebook for the school's pupils. BSL and English have completely different grammars and sentence structures, and written English is still focused on how words sound. (For a more in-depth analysis of the problems deaf people can have with written English, see What Really Matters in the Early Literacy Development of Deaf Children).

What does the Sony PSP have to do with English literacy? Teachers giving writing assignments can ask students to do a draft of their work by making a video in sign with their PSPs' cameras; then, when they bring their PSPs back to school, they can work on English translation with the teacher's help. As Longwill's deputy head Allison Carter says, "[English writing is] becoming much more manageable for the children and you’re getting a much higher quality of work because they can reflect in their first language." To see more about how Longwill is using technology in the classroom, including images of PSPs in action, see Nathan Monk's Design Diary.

In related (if old) news, you can turn your PSP into a portable Teletype (TTY) device.

UNC-Chapel Hill students make games for blind players

According to an article in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill magazine Endeavors ("Fair Games"), UNC computer science students are designing games for players with low vision. The games were field tested at "Maze Day," when 70 kids with visual impairments came from all around North Carolina to play:

The game [Move to the Music] gives [the blind player] audio feedback on her performance: a handclap when she steps in time to the beat, an occasional buzzer when she’s off rhythm. Six-inch-wide pieces of carpet cover the centers of the squares on the pad, telling her feet where to step.
...
Other students used information readily available on the internet to write programs that can communicate with Nintendo’s Wii controller, called the Wii Remote or 'Wiimote.' Given the task of making a sports game, one group picked a sport that would be familiar to their target audience: beep ball. The real-life game is based on baseball and played by many blind kids and adults, using a softball that beeps and bases that make buzzing sounds. The game the students created combines verbal cues such as 'Ready!' 'Pitch!' and 'Strike!' with simple figures that seem to zoom closer to the player as they run across a green field. The player swings the Wiimote to hit the ball, then shakes the controller back and forth to run toward a base.

The games are playable on common, inexpensive hardware, and are open source; they can be improved or adapted as necessary.

Ubisoft game simulates disabilities

There's been a lot of disability-related goodness going on at Ubisoft lately. After taking action against an ableist slur in MindQuiz last year, the publisher announced this past September that all its games developed in-house will be subtitled. Also, Ubisoft is partnering with organization Handicap International for a campaign called Ability Together. This campaign raises awareness of the problems disabled people face, particularly those in developing countries. And it includes Handigo The Game, a series of free minigames starring characters with different impairments: one is blind, one uses a wheelchair and one has learning difficulties.

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