15 Minutes of Fame: Legally blind player with hearing loss conquers raid healing

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15 Minutes of Fame: Legally blind player with hearing loss conquers raid healing
Rainbo at work
From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

Talk about working around healer's tunnel vision: Rainbo, a 25-man discipline/holy priest on Cenarion Circle (US-H), stays out of the fire working with a mere 10-degree field of vision. Rainbo suffers from Usher Syndrome, an incurable condition that causes deafness and progressive vision loss. Despite those challenges, the 29-year-old gamer has played WoW off and on since it first came out.

"Basically, I only have a small field of central vision that is obscured with floaters and flashers, but I creatively use addons and techniques to successfully raid -- even on heroic," Rainbo says. "We're currently 4/7 heroic Firelands, which puts us as the #8 guild on the server in terms of progression." Pretty hot for a guy who can't even see the fires he's moving out of.

RainboMain character Rainbo
Guild Endow
Realm Cenarion Circle (US-H)

15 Minutes of Fame: Tell us a little bit about your vision and hearing loss, Rainbo. What is Usher Syndrome? Is this something you've struggled with all your life?

Rainbo: Usher Syndrome is actually a combination of two other conditions, hearing loss and retinitis pigmentosa. Retinitis pigmentosa starts with night vision loss and is followed by peripheral vision loss. Though the progression of this disease varies by person, usually tunnel vision, then eventually complete blindness, occurs. This is currently incurable, but medical advances are making progress in treatment options.

I was born with a hearing loss, and I've worn hearing aids as long as I can remember. Without them, I can't hear much of anything except low-frequency sounds. Hearing aid technology has improved tremendously, and I now have digital hearing aids with a variety of cool features like a mode optimized for speech.

The vision loss has been a more recent struggle. Night blindness for me began around age 14, and gradually my visual field decreased. At 29, I've become legally blind -- less than 10 degrees of visual field. I recently attended a summer program for blind and visually impaired adults, which was amazing! Though I don't really need to use Braille yet, I've started to learn it and also have learned how to properly walk with a white cane. (It's harder than it looks.) I'm continuing my Braille education with the Hadley School for the Blind, which offers fantastic free resources for visually impaired people and their families. Additionally, I'm learning more every day about laws (i.e., American with Disabilities Act and White Cane Law) and programs (i.e., Free White Cane Program and Free Access Pass to national parks) that pertain to me.

We understand raiding is your bag. Are you in a progression group, or do you generally come in after other guildmates have gotten the lay of the land?

I'm in a progression group.

Are there parts of playing WoW that you simply can't do or that you avoid based on your sight and hearing issues?

Arenas are difficult ... I simply can't keep track of where everyone is with my vision. Overall, I have a tendency to avoid PVP simply because it is less predictable than PVE, but I do enjoy doing Battlegrounds every once in a while. I can treat it like a raid somewhat and stay back and heal people.

Questing can occasionally be frustrating when some aspect of the quest doesn't cooperate with the many addons I use.

What specific issues playing WoW have you experienced based on your visual limitations?

I have about a two-inch circle of vision sitting a couple feet from my monitor, and sometimes floaters move into that circle and slightly distort what I'm seeing. So basically, I can only see a small part of what's on the screen at once. This means I'm far more likely to get attacked by a patrol I didn't see, accidentally facepull something, or not see an obstacle or cliff. Seeing if I'm standing in fire is another obvious issue when I'm watching my raid frames to heal people. Sometimes I lose where the mouse pointer is, too.

Rainbo What about issues related to hearing limitations?

In real life, I use lip reading to pick up any spoken words I may have missed due to my hearing loss. Of course, listening to people in voice chat, which is a requirement for raiding, can be a challenge. Some people are just difficult to understand at first. After a while, I get used to people's voices and speech patterns and it becomes much easier. Also, I have yet to find comfortable headphones I can wear for a whole raid without moving the mic too far away from my mouth.

Do you prefer calmer, more standstill and predictable fights, or do you enjoy the movement-heavy crazy ones despite the challenges to see what's coming?

Some of the more standstill fights, like Baleroc, are easier for me ... but slightly boring in a way. I have to admit I do prefer movement-heavy ones like Alysrazor because I do enjoy a challenge and it makes the battle seem more alive. It's just that much more rewarding when you win, too.

As a healer, how do you psych yourself up to get through movement-heavy, environmentally dangerous new fights without panicking?

I just try to remember that I've had tons of practice healing, and I can heal better when I'm not freaking out. Or maybe I try to think ahead to the shiny loot that awaits if we win. As far as those I'm healing, I think that over time they see that I'm a good healer and are able to trust in that.

Let's talk about the tools and addons you use to solve your vision and hearing challenges.

First, I love Vuhdo, an addon that's designed for healing but can be useful for any class that wants raid frames. Everything is customizable, like the font size, colors, icons, and size. I make my raid frames a size where I can see everyone at once. It's very easy to bind keyboard and mouse combos to simply click on the raid frames to cast a spell. A nice feature gives an arrow over a raid member's frame if they're out of range, so I know where they are in relation to me.

Power Auras is another great one. It gives you visual cues around your character that indicate debuffs, cooldowns, etc. The auras and the color of the auras are customizable, making it great for increasing contrast with the background and for colorblind people.

Deadly Boss Mods is obvious and essential for what to do during a fight, but I'll mention it anyway. Alternatively, GTFO gives you audio cues when you need to move in a fight or if you're too close to a fellow raid member when you need to spread out.

A HUD or heads-up display addon can display information like your health and/or mana around your character similar to Power Auras. I like IceHUD for this, and it has a lot of options.

SayMyName lets you know with a bell sound when someone says your name in chat or an emote. If you have limited vision and can't watch your chat box, this can be helpful.

Boss Mod: Text-to-Speech reads the combat text that addons like Deadly Boss Mods gives you; however, it is currently out of date. It might be worth watching to see if it's upgraded in the future.

An addon called kgPanels can change the color and opacity of your UI elements if you have trouble focusing on them because they're transparent.

A surprisingly simple yet important addon I use is Extra Bars. It allows you to put any size action bar anywhere on the screen. I put one right above my raid frames so I don't need to look far for it for spells that aren't bound to keyboard and mouse combos. Many people like the addon Bartender for their action bars, though.

What about general strategies during play?

Because I spend most of my time looking at raid frames and not at the boss, the most important thing I do is mental mapping. It helps to have a good idea where the boss and your raid members are going to be during the fight, so look for videos and guides that explain this well or offer an illustration. Since my raids are organized and each pull is done in roughly the same way, I can memorize where I need to go at every point in the fight.

Camera movement is vital to maximize what's in my visual field. It's usually best for me to stay zoomed out very far and move my camera as needed. For example, if I'm healing a tank, I can move the camera behind me so I can see my character and the tank I'm healing at the same time.

Finally, I use my own spell effects to reinforce where my healing targets are. For example, the Prayer of Mending and Penance spell effects leave Rainbo's body and travel in a straight line to my target, so I'm getting an update of where they are every so often in case I lost them. Penance actually makes Rainbo face my healing target, which is often very helpful.

How about hardware and other technological solutions?

Besides my hearing aids, I use an ergonomic keyboard, which I find helps me use it more easily without needing to look at it because of the way the keyboard is broken up.

I really don't use much extra technology because I don't find it very useful yet. What you really need to do is take the time to configure your addons and learn to move your camera around to fit your individual needs.

What options has Blizzard included in the UI and game that have helped you adapt and be able to play as you do?

Floating combat text, aggro sounds, the console command for maximum camera distance, and the ability to increase the chat box text size are all nice additions.

What one thing do you most wish Blizzard would add to the game that would help you cope even better?

Well, in Rift, you can move any part of the UI wherever you want ... A feature like that would be helpful. Also, I wish there were more/better camera options for people who have it zoomed out far. It often times gets obscured by a wall or a floating overhead object.

When you're not playing WoW, what do you do?

Well, I have to spend a bit of time taking care of my very needy cat. Seriously, he's laying on me right now, as he does during most of my raids.

I'm very much into music, particularly classical and video game music. Nubuo Uematsu is my favorite composer of game music, while Mozart and Bach are my favorite classical composers. I love to analyze their music and sometimes even make some of my own ... whether it's on the piano or using software like Finale. I do enjoy many other types of music as well, everything from Pink Floyd to Coldplay.

Besides WoW, I'm a bit of a retro gamer; I love old games from DOS games to PS2 games and everything in between. Tactical strategy games are my favorite, like Final Fantasy Tactics, but I love the old RPGs as well, like Chronotrigger. I also enjoy the Heroes of Might and Magic series, the Elder Scrolls games, and I'm very much looking forward to Diablo 3! Some other favorites are Final Fantasy VI, Baldur's Gate II, and StarCraft (1, not 2).

Read more about disabled players and WoW:

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from a player battling Alzheimer's disease to Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn), gaming industry insider Liz Danforth and El of El's Extreme Anglin'. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wowinsider.com.
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