O. Balan, A. Moldoveanu, F. Moldoveanu, M.I. Dascalu

University Politehnica of Bucharest (ROMANIA)
According to a survey performed by the World Health Organization in 2013, the number of visually impaired people worldwide raised to about 285 million, of whom 39 million are legally blind. For them, the access to education is very limited, comparable with their full potential of learning and knowledge acquisition. Blind students are usually involved in educational pursuits towards enhancing adaptive skills such as orientation and mobility. We believe that computer games have the power to become a very useful tool supporting such educational approaches for visually impaired people.

As the majority of computer games available on the market today are based on graphics, blind players have no access to the use of this important means of interaction of whom they could greatly benefit. The rapid increase in consumer multimedia technology and the need for an accessible source of learning and entertainment has led to the evolution of a new game category: the audio games, based on the hearing sense. They address a wide range of public, being accessible to both blind and non-blind users. The purpose of audio games is to express all the information through sound and music in order to create an immersive virtual environment that relies on the auditory perception.
Sound plays a very important role in computer games, as it makes the player feel immersed into the action, giving him situational knowledge and information regarding the presence of other characters. Also, it contains emotional content and “triggers feelings and memories”. 3D sound is highly effective for transferring directional information, especially in navigation games. An auditory approach based on a 360 degree area of interaction involves using some simple equipment, such as stereophonic headphones or a head-tracking device that leads to a more accurate perception of sound and a higher level of immersion.

Audio games are a practical training and learning strategy, as they help blind people to assess notions of mathematics and improve logical memory, develop associative skills in puzzle games, master an instrument or learn how to navigate in unknown environments based on auditory cues.
Navigational audio games enhance the development of spatial cognitive skills and help blind people to manipulate environmental information by stimulating contextual learning. Moreover, the acquired contextual learning can be successfully transferred to the real world, raising spatial awareness, promoting searching skills and improving localization ability in unfamiliar settings.

This paper aims to discuss the most important aspects related to the development and integration of audio-based educational games as a novel and efficient learning strategy for visually impaired people. In addition to this, we present the realization of 2 navigation audio games based on 3D sound localization and the results obtained in some of our experiments which demonstrate that the sound localization skills are strongly related to motivation, focus, training and thoroughly learning.

We conclude that audio games have the potential to promote learning, enhance memory and develop cognitive skills and thus they can significantly improve the quality of life of visually impaired people.

The work has been funded by the Sectoral Operational Programme Human Resources Development 2007-2013 of the Ministry of European Funds through the Financial Agreement POSDRU/159/1.5/S/132395.