Video Games, Mobile Health, Virtual Reality and Accessibility

Posted on Oct 31, 2010
Video Games, Mobile Health, Virtual Reality and Accessibility

It’s been a while since the AniktoBlog has seen a new post, so let’s get to the Good Stuff straight away. Today’s update covers a number of recent trends in emerging, inclusive technology. We’ll tackle them broadly, by topic:

Accessibility in Video Games

A couple of weeks ago, Anikto was honored to take part in the Adobe-sponsored Accessibility Camp DC in our fine nation’s capital. While there, the wonderful Mark Barlet of AbleGamers gave several fascinating demos on game interface prototypes, among them a sound-only game for the blind and a joystick operable only through a player’s chin.

During the presentation, Mark gave a surprising statistic: gamers over the age of 50 now outnumber those under 18. Upon tweeting this stat, Anikto was immediately besieged with requests for a source. The report is located on page four of the ESA Essential Facts 2010 report on gaming populations, which can be downloaded from http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_Essential_Facts_2010.PDF. Mark also provided some intriguing research from the University of NY Buffalo on the likelihood of disability among age and gender groups:

Among persons with a disability, the likelihood that the disability will be severe also increases with age. The likelihood is 21.8 percent among persons less than 18 years old, 38.2 percent among persons 18 to 44, 52.2 percent among persons 45 to 64, 56.8 percent among person 65 to 74, 65.1 percent among persons 75 to 84, and 81.2 percent among persons 85 and over.

On a related thread, consider the September 2010 release of an input controller for Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock for players living with a disability. The tabletop device allows users to play the game using the five synchronized buttons without having to follow a specific color pattern:

“Now there is no need to strum a guitar to join in on the fun,” explained Gail Cocciardi, Director of Product Development for Enabling Devices, which specializes in developing affordable learning and assistive technology devices to help people of all ages. “What makes it even more exciting is that the user can play at different levels of difficulty from beginner to expert – all with our tabletop controller.”

Mobile Health for People with Disabilities

A number of intriguing developments here. First is an iPad app to help students with autism improve written and verbal communication skills. The iPad is an increasingly adaptable learning tool for K-12 contexts, at an affordable cost point, that allows students to use such text-to-speech mobile applications as Proloquo2Go, ABC PocketPhonics and Stories2Learn.

Similar technology is currently being used to help students with a wide range of developmental disorders, such as those with speech or cognitive impairments. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece on how direct manipulation of objects helps users associate more closely with concepts while developing self-esteem:

“It’s portable and something he can carry, and yet it’s large enough to be accessible,” said Shannon Rosa, an advocate and writer whose nine-year-old son, Leo, has autism and uses an iPad. “There’s no cursor analogy he has to work through; it’s a direct connection.”

The iPad also helps remove some of the social stigma. Devices that are made specifically to help people speak tend to be “bulky,” said Bill Thompson, a school psychologist in California with the Orange County Department of Education, who has made several apps to help children with speech problems.

Also of interest are two new apps for the Android platform to help visually-impaired users navigate their surroundings. Users listen to spoken clues to help specify a destination, store as favorites, hear walking directions and other geolocation features.

Emerging mobile platforms bring to mind the importance of standards when developing and distributing inclusive content services. A BSI documentary last month emphasized the importance of Universal Design, drawing a common parallel between accessible buildings and digital products. And a recent slideshare by Steve Faulkner and Hans Hillen ponders the readiness of HTML5 accessibility.

Virtual Reality for Health

Two fascinating developments have emerged in the area of virtual worlds. The Boston University School of Medicine recently ran a study on the effectiveness of Second Life for Continuing Medical Education (CME) purposes, applicable to both medical school and residency use cases. Participants were asked to rate the experience using a seven-point Likert scale and reported increased confidence from pre- to post-event. Topics covered included the selection, initiation and dosage of insulin for patients with type 2 diabetes; the percent of those successfully providing initiation plans increased from 30% to 40% post-event.

Finally, studies on the therapeutic value of pain distraction has led the University of Washington Seattle and U.W. Harborview Burn Center towards the use of virtual worlds to alleviate pain during treatments. SnowWorld is a virtual environment that patients enter (via goggles and headphones) while their wounds are being cleaned and dressed; some patients report benefits equaling or bettering that of medication. Some researchers believe this to be an important factor going forward in treatment programs for chronic pain patients:

What is interesting about this connection is that the focus is not on the virtual worlds technology as alleviating the pain, but on the role of the mind in the situation of engaging with the virtual world. By connecting, through editing, engaging with a virtual world to the completely psychological process of hypnosis, the focus of the discussion moves away from the technology and on to the perceptions and interpretations of the technology by the person, and how these reactions relate to a sense of presence and the creation of a mental distraction to focus the brain away from reacting to pain receptors in the body.

Anikto note: these are among the topics to be covered during an upcoming presentation at the Accessing Higher Ground conference in Boulder, CO on November 15-19. A slightly truncated version will be presented as part of a panel at the International Conference on Video Game and Virtual Worlds Translation and Accessibility at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain on December 2.