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Archive for November, 2009

Disability and Virtual Worlds: Universal Life

By Kel Smith

Many of us use and enjoy virtual worlds such as Second Life for work and play, and there is a vital demographic of virtual world participants with a wide range of disabilities: visual impairments, motor skill disorders, degenerative illness, limited mobility, and cognitive difficulties.

Many of these people use virtual technology to great social and therapeutic benefit. For these users, avatar-driven 3D environments serve as more than a game. Virtual worlds operate as a form of augmented reality, one where it’s possible to transcend a user’s physiological or cognitive challenges into something extraordinary.

First Internet Web Radio Launched For Blind Users

A new internet radio set has been developed for blind and visually impaired listeners, allowing people to listen online to audio books, podcasts, talking newspapers and audio catalogues, as well as internet radio stations from around the world.

Manufactured by the charity British Wireless for the Blind Fund ( ), the ‘Sonata’ radio – claimed to be the first of its kind – was launched earlier this month, and allows users to listen to any streamable, unlicensed internet audio feed.

‘Podcasts From Past’ On Cultural Access Prize Shortlist.

A Museum of London project recruiting and training unemployed people to describe objects in its collections and relay historical information into a series of podcasts, opening up some of the museum’s collections to visually impaired visitors, is among shortlisted nominees for the 2009 Jodi Awards, which recognise best use of digital technology for disabled people in the arts, cultural and heritage sectors.

‘Podcasts from the past’ ( ) is joined on the shortlist by (among others) Leeds Library and Information Service, for its ‘Across the Board’ project ( ). The library offers a series of services and digital communication tools for autistic children and their parents, making it a more natural environment for those affected by autism.

US Universities Reject ‘Inaccessible’ Kindle E-Book

Two American universities have rejected the market-leading Kindle DX electronic book reader as a textbook replacement due to its inaccessibility for blind students. Both Syracuse University in New York State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have chosen not to use the Kindle – manufactured by – as a teaching-aid, after their own trials found it was not fully accessible.

The institutions’ decision was “applauded” by the US National Federation of the Blind ( NFB: ), which said that although the reader contains a text-to-speech feature, “the menus of the device are not accessible to the blind”, meaning that blind users cannot purchase books from Amazon’s Kindle store, select which book to read, or even activate the device’s text-to-speech feature.