BBC News/Technology has an article up about efforts to open up virtual worlds to the blind:
Research by students at IBM in Ireland may open the doors to virtual worlds to those who are blind. This has been a hotly debated topic on the SLED (Second Life Educators Listserv) by teachers and professors. The argument revolves around the wide adoption of virtual world technologies in education, and how we can provide equal access to these technologies for those who are sight impaired or blind.
While Second Life is mentioned in the article, the focus of the student work was conducted in Active Worlds. Active Worlds is much like Second Life, in that the residents create the content. Avatars were equipped with sonars that would pick up on information on in-world objects and avatars. There was also a text to speech component that read chat out loud. It’s a very interesting concept, and one that could easily be implemented in virtual worlds.
Check out the article for a more detailed account of what these students did with their project. Their concept is now being passed to IBM’s Human Ability and Accessibility Center in Texas for further development. IBM sees virtual worlds as the next evolution of the Internet. With all the projects at IBM focused on virtual worlds, it’s obvious that they want to take a lead role in the direction these worlds take.