How Accessible Computers Can Enhance Personal Life For Blind People

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It is a space exploration and trading game which puts you in command of a ship in a universe at war. You'll need to be very familiar with your access technology in order to make use of this game. Learn how to use your in dependant cursor to review the screen and click on buttons. This game was not designed to be accessible but is so by accident. The author of the game is now aware of his blind audience and future versions of the game will hopefully reflect this awareness.

9.2-- Audio Games
The attack was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Alien ships of three different types descended hoping to land before I could destroy them. One group descended straight down at a fairly high speed. There were a couple of them and one was less than two seconds from successfully landing. Another alien much closer to my position had raised its shield rendering it invulnerable to my lasers for a few seconds. I lunged across to zap the one on the far right which was almost on the ground. However, I had previously used too much of my turbo power and it ran out before I could get under the alien. Another similar vessel had snuck down the far left side and landed. I had been so focused on the other two that I had completely failed to notice that one.
As I tried to scoot under the shielded ship quickly enough to take it out, I heard the whirring sounds on the far left and right sides of the playing field as the two successful landers turned into walkers. Their clunking footsteps began to move slowly closer. If they got too close, they could drain my energy quickly by zapping me. I checked my energy state and discovered it was getting on the low side. Meanwhile, my possible salvation appeared above me in the form of an enemy flying saucer. If I could shoot it, these ships dropped items which would give me advantages if I could grab them before they disappeared. Flying saucers descended relatively slowly but wavered all over the place. It was currently right near the ship with shields. I headed that way and managed to shoot both the shielded ship and the saucer.
The explosions nearly masked the appearance of two new ships. One was another shielded ship and the other was armed with a powerful laser cannon. Also dropping from the sky was the item blown free of the destroyed saucer. It landed with a thump and its homing beacon activated emitting a constant beeping alert. I had to get the item before time expired and it disappeared. Unfortunately, it was very close to the walker approaching from the left. Getting too close to that could end my game. I figured there was still a chance that I could reach the item. However, I would have to pass under the laser-armed vessel to do so. Wishing I hadn't already exhausted my turbo power, I headed left. Tensing, I heard the rising whine as the enemy's laser cannon powered up. This was going to be very close. I had to time it so I passed under it just before it fired so it would shoot the wrong way. The clump clump of the left-most lander was getting ever closer and the homing beacon beeped urgently. I succeeded in avoiding the deadly laser blast from above and fired while moving under the shielded ship destroying it. The item was just about to disappear when I managed to grab it. It turned out to be the energy boost I needed. However, in grabbing it, I had come within range of the lander which proceeded to zap me. I quickly fired on it with my horizontal lasers hitting it four times to destroy it. However, this gave the other vessel which had fired the laser at me the opportunity to land and transform into another walker.
Situations like that one are common in the game Aliens in the Outback now sold by Draconis Entertainment. Check this game out as well as several other high-quality audio games at:

Plenty more auditory action awaits you in a multitude of other arcade-style audio games as well. You can race other cars around a track, drive a tank, be chased by ghosts through a maze, shoot it out with monsters, and much more. All of these games use 3d or stereo sound to portray the action taking place as well as your surroundings. While proceeding through a maze, for instance, indicator noises will tell you when it is possible to turn and which ways. You'll hear enemies moving around and the locations of items. Should you be using headphones or own surround-sound speakers, many games will take advantage of this to give you an even more absorbing experience. Naturally, it is very important that you set up your speakers correctly or play these games with headphones. Having left and right speakers on the wrong sides or having surround sound speakers positioned crookedly might not matter as much to sighted people. However, when you're using sound to determine which direction an enemy is approaching from, having the positions right becomes very critical indeed. In the free racing game Topspeed2 for example, you'll hear your opponents all around you as they start their engines prior to beginning the race. There are also accessible versions of board and card games, puzzles, pinball, and even a strategy game similar to Warcraft in development.
That last game lets you command knights, peasants, archers and more units in a fully audio environment. You must mine resources, build structures, fashion your army and fight opponents which can be either computer controlled or other actual players over the Internet. You'll be concentrating on directing your peasants when a group of enemy archers might suddenly approach and begin to attack them. You can set a force of your own soldiers moving with a few quick commands but will they get there in time to save anyone? Many audio games are given away completely for free. Others are sold commercially. The Internet is your main gateway to a whole lot of fun. Just go to the sites I provided in the introduction to this section on computer games and you'll have quite a lot to choose from.
One audio game which truly was a turning point in accessible games was Shades of Doom. This game was produced by GMA Games and is still available commercially at:

It was designed with a lot of input from the blind gaming community. The game was meant to be similar to Doom which was a very popular game in the sighted world. Many people mistakenly thought that Dave Greenwood's intention was to make a precise copy of Doom in accessible format which is absolutely untrue. Shades of Doom lets you move through levels of a complex where an experiment has gone horribly wrong. You must fight many mutants and find clues as well as data-wafers which will allow you to ultimately shut down the experiment. Everything happens in real time. As you move around, so do monsters who may have weapons. You'll be trying desperately to swing around and aim at an approaching enemy and have to dodge its shots at you. The action can get very intense particularly during higher levels of the game. Wind sounds tell you where corridors branch off as well as the echo's of your footsteps. Equipment in rooms will often emit sound to further differentiate locations and give players a positional awareness. Monsters coming up from behind players will have jungle drum sounds overlaying their regular noises to make it clear that they're behind the player. You can begin to appreciate how much thought went into the use of sound as a means of conveying positional information. Novices should be familiar with their keyboards before trying this game and be prepared to make quick use of a lot of buttons. It may be easier to play Shades of Doom with headphones initially.
Pinball was another smash hit when it was made accessible initially by James North. He was responsible for many of the most pioneering accessible games. Sadly, James North's company, ESP Softworks, went out of business some time ago. Fortunately, his games are now the property of Draconis Entertainment which continues to sell and occasionally update them. There are two pinball collections. ESP Pinball Classic contains the original six accessible pinball tables. These have themes ranging from Soccer to a haunted house. The somewhat more advanced ESP Pinball Extreme contains six brand new tables. You can wrack up points serving drinks in a bar filled with wacky patrons, shoot down enemy planes in the Top Gun table and enjoy four additional tables. This collection also features the ability to be expanded. The first such expansion consists of three tables which are added to the six already in ESP Pinball Extreme. By far, the favourite among these three tables in the Pinball Party Pack is Old Man Stanley's House. In this table, you score points for trashing the home of a naturally annoyed elderly gentleman. You must do as much as possible to cause chaos while not letting the destructive consequences go too far. Use your ball to smash his plasma tv, mess around in his bathroom, set his oven on fire and even rummage in his drawers if you can get the ball to go to the correct areas. A surprisingly satisfying and harmless way to appease that gleeful destructiveness within us all.
That's just a small sampling of what's on offer. Some styles of game are far more abundant than others. There are many Space Invaders style games as well as a number of versions of Sudoku. A few racing games have emerged over the years. Sports games haven't been explored very much yet. The most well-known one of those is a version of Bowling. A number of maze games have also been produced. You can't hurt your computer in any way by trying these games. Developers have gone to great lengths to make the process of installing their games very simple. This is also true when it comes to purchasing a game you would like to own the full copy of.

9.3-- Online Games
The latest craze to sweep the blind gaming world was Texas Holdem. I had certainly been drawn in by the powerful experience of being able to communicate and play this interesting Poker variant with people from anywhere at all. I had been asked a number of years ago whether a company offering a game you had to pay a subscription fee to would survive in the blind community. There hadn't seemed much chance of that given the tight economic conditions blind people had experienced for as long as I could remember. People certainly were willing to pay to own games. That had long since been proven despite ongoing piracy faced by accessible game developers. I didn't think too many blind people would be willing to continue forking over even a little cash month after month just to keep playing a game. A company putting out games based on that income method wouldn't last six months, I had thought. Thanks to being gloriously wrong in my assessment, this weekend wasn't the long boring stretch of time it would otherwise have been.
Despite hearing all of my companions via the same synthetic voice, conversation had been interesting and friendly. I had become acquainted with a minister in Texas, the cousin of a blinded veteran waiting to play with him, a teenager from New York about to head off to university, and a couple of housewives who had met through the All inPlay games years before and had become fast friends. All of them had been eager to participate in the event launching this exciting new game. You never knew what cards would turn up nor what sort of people would drop in to participate. I had spent a very pleasant and stimulating Friday evening attending this free tournament held by

to launch their latest creation. It was open to everyone. This included sighted people since that was part of the company's success. They had built inclusive games in order to attract sighted people who might want to play with their blind acquaintances. The interest this game had generated staggered me. The virtual tables were near full most of the time. It was Saturday afternoon and I had begun to hanker for more card action and less talk. Accordingly, I had joined a high-stakes fast table for the first time.
Two kings were what I had to work with. Nobody made any aggressive moves during the first round but neither did anybody fold. The flop came down and included two kings. This was terrific as it gave me a hand of four of a kind. It didn't get much better than that. The next round was more lively as everyone made fairly substantial raises. However, my faith in the four of a kind hand I held remained unshaken. The pot was now quite sizeable. With eight players raising substantially above what was required to remain in the game, whoever came out on top would already find him or herself well ahead in an attempt to win the tournament. The next card was revealed as an ace. That didn't do anything for me but clearly did for others. People began to raise the absolute maximum allowed. Eight of us were at the table so things took on gigantic proportions very quickly. Before I knew what was happening, I was in way over my head. The rush was incredible as everyone found themselves in an essential life or death struggle for chips.
I was balanced precariously on a knife-edge of luck and there was no ducking out now. I was in all the way. It was absolutely exhilarating. Considering that no actual money was involved and all the chips were merely a digital representation of nothing more valuable than a sense of pride in one's skill as a gambler, I wouldn't have thought I could care as much whether I won or lost. I remember reflecting on how true that saying was about not knowing what one had until it was gone. Now that it was completely out of my control, it suddenly mattered greatly that I be able to continue playing in the tournament. How could I lose with four of a kind and four kings to boot? At last, the final card was revealed to be a queen. Everyone went through another round of raising. I couldn't raise any more since all I had was already put into the pot. However, I would still win a tremendous amount if I were victorious. How could I lose with four kings? The answer was as simple as it was devastating. That ace had let somebody get a royal flush which clobbered my four kings. In the blink of an ear, I was out of the tournament. No real money is used by players of All inPlay. Once you've paid your subscription, it's all a matter of pride. That was ultimately all I had just lost.
While I edited my magazine, one of the most frequent questions I had been asked was whether there were any accessible racing games. For quite a while, I had to answer that none were available. Over time, a couple of more arcade-style racing games did emerge. Mach 3, produced and given freely away by Jim Kitchen, achieved a very high level of popularity. The enemy cars were just obstacles on the tracks and didn't try to out-race players. However, there were actual tournament races held via email with everyone sending in their results to a person tasked with being the judge. It was a fairly clunky way of handling things and people began to wonder whether anybody would come out with a game which would let people race each other online. I figured if anybody was going to do that, it would be one of the commercially motivated people running an actual business wanting to make a profit. The demand for it was so obviously present. However, the first such game produced was done by a group of enthusiasts in Europe who gave the game away for free to the delight of all.
I have no idea whether we had any sighted people join our list in the heyday of this game's popularity. Hopefully, seeing all the messages from excited blind online racers about negotiating hairpin turns at full speed, the difficulty controlling motor cycles, various cars and how they handled in adverse conditions, and trying to force opponents to smash into the side of the track didn't alarm anybody too greatly. It certainly made for a surreal experience for me. Actually setting up games involving more than a couple of human players was an exercise in coordination and you had to know a little about computer security if you were running the game behind a firewall or router. Despite those inhibitions, many people would post information about the servers they were running in hopes of having people drop in and participate. These days, it's harder to find servers for a game. However, you'll still occasionally come across discussion of Topspeed 2 from time to time. Another version is apparently being worked on at the time of this guide's publication in 2008. Assuming they can make it easier to find and hook up with potential fellow racers, this game has very high prospects to be another smash hit. You can check out the current Topspeed 2 game at:
There are a number of online games accessible to blind people. Many like those offered by All inPlay have been designed specifically to be accessible. Things are getting off to a slow start in terms of online multi-player experiences as developers are just beginning to seriously explore what can be done in this area. However, this is not the case in the sighted world. Some of the multi-player text-based games have been accessible to the blind for a couple of decades. Many of these are known as multi-user dungeons or simply "muds". If you're looking for advice on how to approach these, I'm afraid I have none to offer you. Being an English major as well as someone fascinated by random chance, I know better than to expose myself to such a potentially powerful addiction. Were I ever to stumble into a mud I actually liked, people might not see much of me. For those of stronger courage, I refer you to the earlier issues of Audyssey Magazine where you'll find some articles and reviews written by experienced blind players of these games. To get you started though, check out a new accessible program for playing these muds. It's called Vipmud and can be obtained from:

You can also go to:
Still other games online are what are known as "browser-based" games. You simply need an accessible web browser to play these games. They are a fabulous way to gain proficiency using interactive elements of web sites such as buttons, combo boxes, edit fields and the like. One such game is:

It is actually a single-player fantasy game. Its creator has gone to great lengths to make his textual world accessible to blind players. I can't think of a better and more engaging game for novices to learn Internet skills by playing. Much of the game is available for free. Certainly, there is enough there to let novices become veterans of Internet elements. For a very reasonable fee, far more adventures and other perks are made available to players who find that they like the game and wish to contribute.
If you're looking for a more extensive list of accessible online games, check out the one hosted at Tom Lorimer's site. Go to:

and you can find quite an extensive list of online games known to be accessible to the blind. Chances are that there will be something out there of interest to you.


10-- Looking For Accessible Software
There is a tremendous lot of software out on the Internet. Much of it is absolutely free for people to download and use. If you find something which is designated as freeware, that means that you are free to download, share and use it to your heart's content. There are absolutely no costs nore strings attached. This guide is released in that same spirit. The only thing that I or most freeware creators would object to is if somebody modified what they had done or simply released it and took credit themselves for creating the freeware.
Other software is called "shareware". Users may freely download and try out the software but must purchase a full version to continue using it after the demonstration expires or to unlock the software's full potential. In many instances, this free or low-cost software will be completely adequate or even better suited to an individual's needs than the higher-priced commercial offerings. There's a persistent myth that it's pointless to try any of this software out since it likely won't be accessible. There's certainly a grain of truth to that. Sight is the world's predominant sense and much of this software is designed with graphical attractiveness which makes it impossible for people using access technology to take advantage of. Anybody who decides to look outside the box for accessible freeware or shareware is in for many disappointments. You'll install many programs, work with them for a while trying to see if there's any way at all of making it work for you and then come to the inescapable conclusion that it was a hopeless cause from the start. However, more often than not, efforts along these lines can eventually prove quite spectacularly rewarding. Here are three good examples of what I mean:
I wanted a personal calendar for my computer. The access technology people all seem to be focused on making Microsoft Outlook's calendar accessible. That's all well and good for a lot of people but I didn't want to have to use Microsoft Outlook. I am perfectly content with Outlook Express for my personal email needs and wanted a completely separate calendar program. Google is my search tool of choice and I began entering keywords into it in hopes of striking gold. I started with "blind, calendar, windows, software, free". A bit on the lengthy side of searches and too specific to produce anything worth-while as it turned out. There just didn't seem to be anything written specifically to be accessible for blind people.
Taking a different tack, I decided to look for free personal calendar software for Windows. One of the more promising early finds was a free program called Sunbird. It was somewhat problematic even for a veteran like myself to make use of and I certainly couldn't have recommended it to novice users. It was workable but not without a lot of frustration. Pressing onward in my search, I came to Eurosoft's free program Calendar Magic. Having tried and discarded somewhere around ten other free calendar programs, I ran it expecting more of the same bad luck to continue. However, I found that one feature after another proved to be fully accessible without any effort at all. The software contained far more than a mere calendar. It had many different calculators, measurement conversions, and many other utilities. Most information and results were displayed in edit fields allowing for easy reading via the arrow keys. Things were accessed using standard Windows-style menus, checkboxes, radio buttons etc. You can learn more about this extraordinary find at:
Here's another example. I was a happy user of Microsoft Word for quite some time. However, I couldn't afford to keep it updated. When I installed my version of Microsoft OfficeXP onto my latest desktop computer, I found that Microsoft Word wouldn't work for me anymore. It wouldn't stay open even long enough for me to accept the license. There is also the issue of how long Microsoft Word can take to open when you need it. I figured there had to be a free word processor out there with a spell checker and a status line which would work well with screen readers. A few free text editors have been designed for blind people. Edsharp and Text pal are two examples. However, neither of these has a status line which will inform you of what page, line and column you're on. They had all sorts of other features but didn't have the basic feature I needed. Continuing my search on Google, I tried a number of free word processors for sighted people. A few were completely inaccessible. A more promising early find was Ruff Draft. This one would certainly do in a pinch. However, I was completely astounded by a program called Jarte.
Jarte is a free word processor which makes use of the engine which Microsoft used to build Word pad. However, it had added many features to this completely accessible free offering such as the status line I wanted. The author even has a screen reader detection feature which removed the more visual elements. It doesn't get any better than this. Jarte opens up very quickly when I need it. No more than half a second after I hit the shortcut key I've created for it, Jarte is open and ready for work. Far less loaded with features than Microsoft Word, I believe Jarte has those features which average users will need for their personal writing. I'd far sooner have new users start with it rather than Word. Jarte would have done fine had I used it during my university career. It is robust without being over-bloated with features most people are rarely if ever going to need. You can find this excellent free word processor at:

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How Accessible Computers Can Enhance Personal Life For Blind People

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