Computer accessibility has come a long way since the early screen readers for MS-DOS, and it still has a long way to go - but IBM has decided that being blind should be no hindrance to enjoying virtual worlds, and have introduced a project called Accessibility in Virtual Worlds, aimed at researching at developing methods to make places like Second Life (the researchers actually used Active Worlds, which they described as more flexible for their needs) "more hospitable" to the visually impaired. It sounds like an audible version of old-school text-based adventures:
"When the user comes into the world, the items are described as well as their positions," explained Colm O'Brien, one of the team of four researchers who worked on the project.
"There is also sound attached - for example, if there's a tree nearby you will hear a rustling of leaves," said Mr O'Brien.
The work also developed tools which uses text to speech software that reads out any chat from fellow avatars in the virtual world that appears in a text box.
Characters in the virtual world can have a "sonar" attached to them so that the user gets audible cues to alert them to when they are approaching, from which direction and how near they are.
While the initial research was conducted in Ireland by students brought together for 12 weeks to work on problems posed by more senior researchers, IBM promises that the concepts "will be passed on to IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Centre in Texas for further development".