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NEWS
Equal Access To Racing Video Games For Blind Gamers Developed
May 3, 2018

Brian A. Smith, a PhD candidate in Computer Science at Columbia Engineering, has developed the RAD–a racing auditory display–to enable gamers who are visually impaired to play the same types of racing games that sighted players can play with the same speed, control, and excitement that sighted players experience. The audio-based interface, which a player can listen to using a standard pair of headphones, can be integrated by developers into almost any racing video game, making a popular genre of games equally accessible to people who are blind.


Screenshot of the RAD, a racing auditory display. Columbia Engineering computer scientist Brian A. Smith has developed the RAD–a racing auditory display–to enable visually impaired gamers play the same types of racing games that sighted players play with the same speed, control, and excitement as sighted players. Credit: Brian A. Smith/Columbia Engineering.

“The RAD is the first system to make it possible for people who are blind to play a ‘real’ 3D racing game–with full 3D graphics, realistic vehicle physics, complex racetracks, and a standard PlayStation 4 controller,” says Smith, who worked on the project with Shree Nayar, T.C. Chang Professor of Computer Science. “It’s not a dumbed-down version of a racing game tailored specifically to people who are blind.”

While there are a number of games on the market suitable for the blind, many are loaded with competing sources of information that players must sift through, slowing down the fun of playing the game. Others are versions of popular games so simplified that a blind gamer does nothing more than follow orders. There has been a fundamental tradeoff between preserving a game’s full complexity and its pace when making it blind-accessible.

“Our challenge,” says Smith, “was to give visually impaired players enough information about the game so that they could have the same sense of control and thrill that sighted players have, but not so much information that they would get overwhelmed by audio overload or bogged down in just figuring out how to interpret the sounds.”

According to information, Smith’s work builds on two distinct areas of research: building audio navigation systems and developing blind-accessible racing games and driver assistance systems. The RAD comprises two novel sonification techniques: a sound slider for understanding a car’s speed and trajectory on a racetrack, and a turn indicator system for alerting players about upcoming turns well in advance of the actual turns. Together, these approaches enable players to understand aspects about the race and perform a wide variety of actions in a way that is not possible in current blind-accessible racing games. Smith’s aim was to design an interface that would give players enough relevant information to form a plan of action.

He recently presented his paper, “The RAD: Making Racing Games Equivalently Accessible to People Who Are Blind,” at ACM CHI 2018’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Montreal, the leading international conference for Human-Computer Interaction. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation’s IGERT program.


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