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Sonar Vision

06/10/2020

An idea for a system of 3D world interaction, conceived of with visually impaired users in mind.

A few years ago, I used a screen reader for the first time. This was while conducting accessibility testing on a website that I had been employed to produce. Refreshingly, accessibility was important to my employer of that time.

Using Chromevox (among the least popular screen readers, but in my humble opinion, the best), I was mildly captivated by the system that had been developed to help visually impaired users interact with an electronic document. What interested me most, was the system of pops, clicks and bleeps that it used to indicate various pieces of content, such as headings and lists, and events, such as keypresses, and input focuses. It was an intricate constructed language, designed to translate a massive amount of visual information into an audiable equivalent.

A few years down the line, and somehow, I get it into my head that it would be interesting to see if a similar approach could be used to help visually impaired users navigate a 3D environment. I'm sure its not the first time something a bit like this has been attempted (hell, bats have been doing it for centuries!) but with that said, I haven't come accross any 3D virtual environment interfaces like this before.

The allure of this interesting technical challenge is largely what drove me to create a few game system libraries (to be used in conjunction with ThreeJS) over the past few months.

The system I've developed includes an auditorial compass, and an auditorial compound eye. More details of these things are within the demo itself. (Link above).

My original intention was to create an adventure game, which visually impaired users, and those seeking a different kind of challenge, could navigate by means of listening carefully to the atmospheric diagetic audio, and also by making use of the sensors that I have created here.

The interesting thing about a game such as this (from both a developers and a players perspective) is that audio is designed, and experienced, as the principle thing - as visuals are irrelevant.

However, there are other applications for this type of thing, I think:

  • 3D chatrooms for the visually impaired.
  • Extentions to real world application, with the appropriate hardware.

Anyone wishing to build on what I've made, for commercial or non-commercial ends, is free to do so. I've made the code public - the repoistory can be found here.

Please note: No mobile support for this rudimentary demo.

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