Startups working to make entertainment accessible to the visually-impaired

By June 02, 2015

Recently we have seen growing number of innovations designed to help people with poor sight to enjoy various forms of entertainment. However, some of the creators have aims which go beyond this basic goal.

We have heard quite a lot in recent years about new technologies offering innovations to enable visually-impaired people to move about and understand what is happening around them. However, having met these basic needs, the latest information and communication technology can also be harnessed to help the visually impaired to enjoy the world of entertainment. The latest venture on this front is A Blind Legend, a pioneering initiative by Dowino, a startup based in the French city of Lyon, which was on show at the Health and Autonomy Fair which took place in Paris on 19-21 May. This is a game for mobile devices which is entirely without images or visual instructions. Instead, sound signals are used to project the game environment and convey the progress of the plot and the action. To do this, the game’s creators use ‘binaural’ technology, which captures sound using two microphones in order to record what feels to the listener like a ‘3D’ stereo audio track.

                          Video games now accessible to visually-impaired people

This is not the first time a video game has been created with visually-impaired people in mind. It is however the first time a studio company has designed a completely non-visual game. A Blind Legend follows the story of Edward Blake, a mediaeval knight whose eyes have been put out by his arch-enemy and who now has the task of finding his wife and freeing her from her kidnappers. So the gamer, like the hero, is deprived of all visual ability. You control the main character's movements on your smartphone touchscreen based on audio-cues.

Films, photos, games: startups helping to open up new worlds

A Blind Legend symbolises a new wave of innovations designed to bring entertainment into the lives of the visually-impaired. However, most of these initiatives come from individual developers or startups, rarely from an established studio. ‟Traditional games-makers have shown little interest in this area; they regard it as a niche market rather than an opportunity to broaden their audience,” points out Dowino co-founder and Chief Executive Pierre-Alain Gagne. Meanwhile, on a slightly different tack, Singaporean photojournalist Bob Lee has succeeded in teaching the art of photography to blind and visually-impaired people.

Bob Lee has set out to help blind people take photographs

In similar vein, Californian startup EnChroma has developed special glasses which enable people who are colour-deficient to experience colours as they ‘really’ are. Cinemas have also been completely re-designed to convey movie action via audio, very much in the spirit of the Audiovision Festival, a film festival dedicated to blind and visually-impaired people held this year in Paris in April. For all these initiatives, startups, charitable organisations and research teams are using the latest technolo y to make new areas accessible to people with poor sight. However, some of the innovators have ambitions beyond this basic goal.

Tools to raise general awareness of the challenges

Apart from directly assisting the visually impaired, this approach can also be used to raise awareness of the issues among people who enjoy normal vision. Dowino’s ‘video-less’ video game is also aimed at the general public, both to offer them a different sensory experience and to help them understand the challenges which blind/visually-impaired people face on a daily basis. The startup intends to offer a new experience to everyone: ‟Traditional gamers are always looking to provide new innovative experiences, given that the industry tends to ‘sanitise’ most offerings and to recycle games which have proved popular,” underlines Pierre-Alain Gagne. So might advanced audio-based games be the future of the industry? Following the launch of A Blind Legend, scheduled for September this year, Dowino is planning to focus on a different area: virtual audio visits for the tourist industry.


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