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Virtually leading the blind

Tateru Nino
04.03.09
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Virtual environments are an extraordinarily useful piece of technology, being that they possess most of the qualities of the atomic world (obviously barring physical substance and fine granularity) at an infinitesimal fraction of the cost of the real thing. As a primarily visual medium, however, what do you do if you're blind or significantly visually impaired yet still want to use Second Life?

Well, one option is TextSL, but then there's Max. Max is a virtual guide-dog to allow the visually impaired to interact more readily in what is primarily a visual environment.

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.


Are you a part of the most widely-known collaborative virtual environment or keeping a close eye on it? Massively's Second Life coverage keeps you in the loop.
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