Max, the Virtual Helping Hands Virtual Guide dog, allows the user to have text read to them via a screenreader, to navigate in the virtual environment including orienting themselves, find people and objects, follow other users, determine what is around them and adjust their position.
Max is a bit like one of those Swiss Army-style knives, packed full of tools to allow the visually impaired user to explore and interact with the virtual environment and other people who are using it.
Currently, Max is in beta, but it's one hell of a beta at the moment, and one of the most impressive assistive technologies available for visually impaired Second Life users.
Max can tell the owner what objects and avatars are nearby, and where they are -- or be able to provide information about those that are further away giving directions and distances in a variety of fashions.
Max also features a 'Marco/Polo' system, developed by Chade Villota. When Max comes near an object with a 'Polo' script, the object is identified as an object with an accessible description which can then be read on command. The Marco/Polo system also supports Audio Description (AD) standards.
Everyone on the VHH Virtual Guide dog project is a volunteer, encouraging and enabling inclusion, raising awareness and, well, providing Max, to help others. If ever there was a candidate for the Linden Prize, then this would be it. We were treated to a demonstration of Max last week, and came away very impressed indeed. Max has been in development for some time and has made a lot of progress.
If you're looking for more information on Max, you can contact CharlesMountain@secondabilitymentors.org. Various tools to use in conjunction with Max are available on the project's Web-site.