Award will fund research to promote exercise and technology immersion for visually impaired children
July 28, 2009
Washington, D.C. -- Nevada Senators Harry Reid and John Ensign today announced nearly $500,000 has been awarded to the University of Nevada Reno on behalf of the National Science Foundation to develop a novel virtual award interface for the visually impaired.
The new interface extracts textual representations of objects that visually impaired gamers encounter while immersed in virtual worlds so the objects can be read with a screen reader. A prototype of the system has already allowed users limited access to the popular virtual world of Second Life.
At present, however, less than half of the objects in Second Life have a meaningful descriptive name, rendering the majority of objects invisible to visually impaired users. This new interface will allow screen readers to efficiently and automatically recognize large numbers of unnamed objects in virtual worlds.
“Access for all to the latest sophisticated technologies in paramount,” Reid said. “Virtual worlds are increasingly used as educational platforms, so access to this novel information technology is doubly critical.”
“This research will improve the quality of life for the millions of people who are visually impaired,” said Ensign. “In particular, social interaction opportunities will be greater, enhancing connectivity to those who might otherwise feel physically or socially isolated.”
A next phase of the researchers’ work will focus on developing exercise games for the visually impaired. "Exergames," some of the newest electronic games and 3-D environments, encourage visually impaired children to exercise by using touch and sound feedback.
The lack of physical activity is a serious health concern for people with vision impairments, and exergames have the potential to change sedentary lifestyles, improve related health problems, and stimulate learning.
Preliminary tests of tennis-based and music-driven, pattern-matching programs have demonstrated the ability to engage visually impaired children in physical activity.
Dr. Eelke Folmer, a specialist in Human Computer Interaction Research in the University of Nevada Reno's Computer Science and Engineering Department, will lead these research efforts. The scientists are applying for federal support to develop an exercise suit that can be assembled from commercial off-the-shelf, motion-sensing controllers, and to host a week-long annual sports camp for visually impaired children.
"Such a research investment would help ensure that Nevada's children and people with disabilities have access to the latest in technology while also addressing a health concern,” Reid said. “Such novel technologies will be win-wins for Nevadans and all Americans with a visual impairment."
“Physical activity is vital to ensure that health concerns are kept at a minimum,” said Ensign. “Because of ‘Exergames’, those with a visual impairment will have the ability to more actively engage in physical activity, while stimulating learning.”
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