Teaching the Blind to Find Their Way by Playing Video Games
Computer based video games are receiving great interest as a means to learn and acquire new skills. As a novel approach to teaching navigation skills in the blind, we have developed Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES); a virtual reality environment set within the context of a video game metaphor. Despite the fact that participants were naïve to the overall purpose of the software, we found that early blind users were able to acquire relevant information regarding the spatial layout of a previously unfamiliar building using audio based cues alone. This was confirmed by a series of behavioral performance tests designed to assess the transfer of acquired spatial information to a large-scale, real-world indoor navigation task. Furthermore, learning the spatial layout through a goal directed gaming strategy allowed for the mental manipulation of spatial information as evidenced by enhanced navigation performance when compared to an explicit route learning strategy. We conclude that the immersive and highly interactive nature of the software greatly engages the blind user to actively explore the virtual environment. This in turn generates an accurate sense of a large-scale three-dimensional space and facilitates the learning and transfer of navigation skills to the physical world.