Archive for the ‘3D Virtual Worlds’ Category

I have received requests for further information about our own presentation at the CSUN International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, so I decided to post a summary of our session and a link to the PowerPoint presentation.

The title of our presentation was Changing Realities for Accessibility in 3D Virtual Worlds and was co-presented by Dr Denise Wood (project leader UniSA), Charles Morris (lead developer UniSA) and Janyth Ussery (Virtual Helping Hands).

During our one hour presentation we discussed and presented the outcomes from our ALTC funded 3D virtual learning project, which has focused on developing an accessible open source viewer and web interface to 3D virtual worlds such as Second Life and OpenSim.

We began the presentation by discussing the goals of our research in this area, which  include:

  • Improved opportunities to access to Education
  • Opportunities for Employment
  • Increased Socialisation
  • Social Networking
  • Entertainment
  • Equal Access for everyone
Screen shot from the Hellen Keller conference held in Second Life

Screen shot from the Hellen Keller conference held in Second Life

We then discussed the benefits of 3D Virtual Worlds arguing that 3D virtual worlds can:

  • Provide a more engaging environment
  • Allow more flexibility in attendance
  • Create a sense of community
  • Develop problem-solving skills
  • Simulate things not possible in ‘physical life’
  • Allow increased creativity
  • Build team work and communication skills

More specifically, in relation to education, we discussed the benefits of teaching and learning  in  3D Virtual Worlds, which include:

  • Responding to a changing demographic (students working more, spending less time on campus, feeling more isolated)
  • Opportunity to create a sense of community
  • Responding to students who have grown  up with digital technology
  • Need for life long learning skills
  • Activities possible including
    • Artificial simulations
    • Games design
    • Theatre and opera
    • Machinima (video production)
    • Quests and historical re-enactments
    • Politics, Governance, Civics
    • Business & financial modelling
Students creating virtual game in Second Life

Students creating virtual game in Second Life

We identified several issues in teaching in virtual worlds such as:

  • Steep learning curve for students
  • Some students found communication difficult
  • Many students found interface challenging
  • Bandwidth restrictions
  • Need for students to have access to Second Life to join in classes
  • Identified accessibility concerns

We also discussed some existing solutions including:

  • Alternate Viewers, Text SL, etc.
  • Max Voice Plus Application
  • Virtual Guidedog Project
  • SecondAbility Mentors
  • User contributed tools and solutions
  • Other organizations and projects
  • The community at large
Screen shot of three avatars with virtual guide dogs in Second Life

The virtual guide dog is one of the existing accessibility solutions in Second Life

We moved on to then focus on the aims of the ALTC funded 3DVLE project:

  • Investigate accessibility issues for students with disabilities
  • Identify available accessibility solutions
  • Extend existing solutions to develop an open source accessible 3D virtual learning platform
  • Create accessible teaching tools
  • Develop guidelines for teaching in 3D virtual worlds and designing accessible learning technologies

We  described the accessibility problems associated with  existing 3D virtual world environments including the following issues:

  • The log-in screen of Second Life is not accessible for users who are visually impaired and rely on screen reader software;
  • The local chat window in Second Life is not accessible to screen reader software;
  • The user interface of the Second Life client is not accessible to screen reader software and there is limited support for alternative accessing devices;
  • User generated content within Second Life is not accessible to visually impaired users;
  • Tab-index needs to be incorporated to provide a logical order between links and options;
  • The need for provision of an audio message and a text list of avatars in the vicinity of user’s avatar;
  • A simple author solution is required that will enable users to add descriptive labels for all objects and longer descriptions for posters and slides containing text in image format;
  • The need for synchronised streaming captions for videos;
  • There is also a need for text transcriptions for streaming audio.

We demonstrated our design solution which evolved from desktop research, review of alternative solutions and the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (W3C WCAG 2.0). The solution builds on the exemplary work already under way in Second Life including the design and development of Max Voice technology as part of the virtual guidedog project undertaken by Virtual Helping Hands.

There are two main components to the accessibility solution we have implemented:

  • The integration of text to speech and accessible interface controls in the open source 3D Virtual World client, which has been called Access Globe.
  • The design and development of a Web 2.0 site, which enables users who are unable to access the 3D Virtual World to log into the website and participate in real-time in any sessions being conducted in the 3D Virtual World.

Users logged into the 3D Virtual World can type text into the chat window within the Access Globe interface and they can hear that text read aloud, as well as the text messages from others participating in the chat session. The text chat is sent via http requests to the web server through a gateway page and the data stored in a database. Similarly, any slides being displayed ‘in world’ are sent as images and text equivalents to the server.

On the web side, users log into the site and are authenticated. Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) is used to poll the database and identify any new content that needs to be displayed via either a refresh or append command to the appropriate element within the page.  To resolve known accessibility issues with AJAX, the W3C’s WAI Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (WAI-ARIA), which provides a framework for adding attributes to identify features for user interaction, has been implemented. As the WAI-ARIA site explains, ARIA makes it possible to map controls, live regions, and events to accessibility application programming interfaces (APIs) (World Wide Web Consortium, 2009). Using ARIA live region markup it is possible to set the priority with which ATs should treat updates to the live regions.

Screen shot of the screen of the accessible viewer showing accessible text displayed on screen

Accessible viewer for use with 3D virtual worlds

The web application is also accessible via mobile phones and other mobile technologies. This provides flexibility for users who are unable to log into the 3D Virtual World when away from their computer.


Further information is available from the project Website: http://www.unisanet.unisa.edu.au/3dvle/


A demonstration video (with captions) is available from the YouTube site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxohIjxheS8.


In the final section of our presentation we discussed how we are extending the project in South Africa. Please refer to earlier posting on our research in South Africa for further information.
Screen shot of one of the virtual builds in the education project developed for schools in South Africa

Screen shot of one of the virtual builds in the education project developed for schools in South Africa

In summing up, we discussed the next stages of the project which includes the following tasks:
  • Accessibility and usability testing of accessible client and Web 2.0 interface.
  • Develop accessibility and pedagogical guidelines for higher education.
  • Develop the 3DVLE for use in developing countries addressing the identified priority areas in collaboration with local experts.
  • Collect baseline data prior to trials in South Africa.
  • Implement trial in third and fourth terms of 2011.
  • Obtain measurements at regular intervals.
  • Conduct follow up visits in October 2011 and January 2012.
  • Design guidelines for use in schools and teacher education programs in universities.
  • Extend project to Sub-Saharan countries.
Link to the PowerPoint presentation: CSUN Presentation2011

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I have recently returned from the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego where we presented on our accessible 3D Virtual Learning Project.  The conference was held from the 14th-19th March at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, and hosted by California Statue University, Northridge. The image below of the San Diego Harbour was taken from one of the twin towers of the conference venue.

Scenic picture taken of the San Diego Harbour from one of the twin towers of the Grand Manchester Hyatt, at the 2011 CSUN conference

View of the San Diego Harbour taken from one of the rooms in the Grand Manchester Hyatt hotel at the CSUN 2011 conference venue

Pre-Conference workshops were held on Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th March. These workshops included sessions on accessible approaches to social networking (Larry Lewis) and creating accessible documents for students and the workplace (Victoria Essner) on the Monday, and three parallel streams focusing on the accessibility of  HTML5 and Rich Internet Applications (Steve Faulkner, Hans Hillen, Jared Smith and Jonathan Whiting); an overview of assistive technology (Kelly Fonner and Scott Marfilius) and the use of the iPad and iPod Touch in the special needs classroom (Mark Coppin and Luis Perez). You can access the slides from the session on HTML5 and Rich Internet Applications from the following URL: http://webaim.org/presentations/2011/csun/html5aria/

The keynote address and welcome reception was held on Tuesday evening, 15th March. The host for the evening was Dr Arthur Karshmer and the key note panelists included Axel Leblois (Founder and Executive Director of G3ict Global Initiative for Inclusive Technologies), Mohammed Al-Tarawneh (Chief Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Disabilities in Doha-Qatar) and Paul Shafer (IT specialist and Assistant Section 508 Coordinator at the US Dept of State). The featured speaker at the conference was Kareem A Dale, who is the Special Assistant to President Obama for Disability Policy. Mr Dale presented on the administration’s work on Technology and Disability during the keynote session from 12:45-1:30 pm on Thursday 17th March.

Several awards were presented at the conference including the Strache Award presented to Alan Muir, acknowledging his leadership in the field of disability and technology with an emphasis on continuing education. The 2011 Trace Centre’s Harry J Murphy Catalyst Award was presented by Dr Gregg Vanderheiden to Dr Klaus Miesenberger who has inspired action, fostered the achievements of others and contributed to the field of disability and technology. The Deque lifetime achievement award was presented to Jim Thatcher, who has been hailed as one of the founders of Web accessibility.

There were more than 250 parallel presentations conducted from Wednesday 16th to Friday 18th March. Sessions covered a broad range of disability and technology related topics; the sessions focusing on html5 and rich media applications, as well as those demonstrating new and emerging accessible iPad applications proved to be very popular.

I finally managed to meet Norm Coombs from EASI. I have been communicating with Norm via email and Skype for well over a decade, so our face to face meeting at CSUN was long overdue. EASI played an active role in presentations at the conference with sessions on IT and disabilities in Brazil and Mexico,  Bookshare for university students and supporting research, a  demonstration of the tool, LecShare, which turns PowerPoint into accessible Web content and a session on the  the accessibility of Moodle, as well as a session on Android phone accessible applications. EASI has made the slides from these presentations available online via:  http://easi.cc/conferences/

A feature of every CSUN conference is the expo on technology and disabilities, and this year was no exception. Approximately 150 exhibitors showcased their products and services across the Douglas Pavilion and Manchester Ballroom. The expo ran until Saturday 19th March and attracted a steady stream of both conference delegates and general public.

There were interesting products on show for people with vision impairments including Braille Note Takers and Voice Note Takers, as well as refreshable Braille displays and desktop video magnifiers produced by HIMS Inc (http://www.hims-inc.com), touch memo devices such as one produced by Vision Cue (http://www.visioncue.com) designed to enable individuals to label household objects with associated recorded voice descriptions for easy access when trying to locate objects, and a range of screen magnification and reader applications such as Zoom Text (http://www.aisquared.com) and iZoom produced by ISSIST (http://www.issist.com). Many of the well known distributors of assistive technologies were represented at the Expo including AbleNet, Words+, LSS Products and EnhanceVision.

I also stumbled upon an interesting graphite cane produced by Revolution Enterprises in California (http://www.advantagecanes.com). These canes have been designed to achieve optimum balance for use and comfort and are only 8.5 ounces in weight. Prices range from US $40.00 (support cane), $28 (folding) and $20.70 for rigid canes (for bulk purchases) and children’s canes are also available.

Another interesting technology on show as the Emfuse Color Braille Station, which prints hard copy handouts in colour, Braille and with tactile graphic representations of images on the page.

Perhaps not surprisingly, iPad applications were also popular and some of the accessible applications I found on show include:

  • Predictable (produced by tboxapps.com), which is software for the iPad that supports same word and next word prediction, auto scanning and user scanning, direct access and switch access, provides auditory feedback and voice output (choice of 9 voices) together with a  customisable user phrase bank (image shown below).
  • Proloquo3Go (also supports word and next word prediction as well as voice output) by AssistiveWare.
  • Pictello- as simple application that enables users to create talking photo albums and books. Also produced by AssistiveWare.
  • ArtikPix (an articulation application with flashcard and matching activities for children with speech delays) produced by Jason Rinn and Eric Sailers.
Screen shot of predictable iPad and iPhone communication application

Predictable iPad and iPhone communication application

All of these applications are available through the iTunes store. Also announced at the expo are new applications including Scene and Heard from Tboxapps  (http://www.tboxapps.com/), which will support communication for augmentative and alternative communication users through contextual scenes, recorded spoken messages and videos. Another soon to be released iPad application is  ZoomReader developed by the same company that markets ZoomText (http://mobile.aisquared.com/

We are hoping to trial some of these applications with AAC users and I will post reviews of the products at a later date.

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I spent 10 days in South Africa during January as part of an initial scoping exercise and the first stage of research project to be undertaken in collaboration with the Gauteng and Limpopo Provincial Education Departments, and SANZEF (a Muslim NGO in South Africa) aimed at improving student engagement, learning outcomes and retention in mono, multigrade and special schools in South Africa.

The project has received funding in cash and kind  from the University of South Australia, the University of Adelaide, the University of New England, SANZEF in Gauteng Province and the Limpopo Provincial  Government.  Our research team includes experts in curriculum development; effective use of educational technologies; educational leadership; accessible and inclusive design; health sciences; economic development; entrepreneurship; sustainable farming and nutrition; programming and 3D design. The team members are:


  • Dr Denise Wood – Project Leader (UniSA)
  • Professor Noel Lindsay – Entrepreneurship & Innovation (University of Adelaide)
  • Dr Charles Kivunja – Educational Leadership (University of New England)
  • Dr Sheila Scutter – Health Sciences (James Cook University)

USA team members:

  • Janyth Ussery – Educational Technology & Accessibility (Virtual Helping Hands)
  • Charles Morris – Programming & Inclusive Design (UniSA and Virtual Helping Hands)
  • Jake Blehm – Ecology, Sustainable Farming & Nutrition (Ecology Action)
Research Team in South Africa

Denise (centre) with project team in South Africa

The aims of the project are to:

  • demonstrate the benefits of using an accessible 3DVLE in mainstream and special primary schools;
  • compare the learning outcomes for children using an accessible 3DVLE with those undertaking learning using existing approaches;
  • determine the extent to which the 3DVLE is motivating and engaging for children participating in the trials;
  • identify the benefits and challenges experienced by teachers;
  • develop guidelines for the effective use of 3DVLEs in schools;
  • develop training materials for teachers;
  • identify technical challenges and solutions.

During our time in South Africa in January we conducted workshops with principals and curriculum advisors in both Gauteng and Limpopo Provinces. Some of the photos from the workshop in Polokwane appear below:

Workshop conducted in Polokwane, South Africa

Dr Denise Wood and Professor Noel Lindsay in discussion with Limpopo Provincial Government Education Department staff member at the workshop conducted in Polokwane, South Africa

Participants at the Polokwane Workshop

Participants at the Polokwane Workshop testing out the 3D virtual learning environment

School principal checking out the accessibility features of the 3D virtual learning platform

School principal checking out the accessibility features of the 3D virtual learning platform at the Polowane Workshop

School principal checking out the accessibility features of the iPad

School principal checking out the accessibility features of the iPad

We visited several of the schools that will be participating in the trials of the 3D virtual learning environment including Tiisetso Bekezela, Apex, Zodiac and Impala Crescent schools in Lenasia, Roshnee Islamic School, Bombeleni and Laerskool Primary Schools in Tzaneen, Letabo Special School and New Horizon Special School.

Child at Tiisetso Bekezela School trying out the 3D virtual learning environment

Child at Tiisetso Bekezela School trying out the 3D virtual learning environment

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Charles Morris, our lead developer on the 3D Virtual Learning project, presented on my behalf a the Second Life Community Convention held in Boston from the 13th-15th August, 2010. Our presentation was a dynamic 5 minute “Speed Spark” which was simulcast in Second Life as well as at the conference. The “Speed Spark” sessions conducted on the Saturday included the following:

  • Machinima Basics:  Robin Williams (SL: Greylin Fairweather)
  • How Community Contribution Opportunities Have Helped the 7Seas Fishing Community: Jen Gagne (SL: Jen Shikami)
  • Almost Like Being There: Second Life Experiences Informing Real World Action: Linda Kelley (SL: Delia Lake)
  • Sojourner Auditorium on Virtual Ability Island: Dr. Robert Vernon (SL: Gabrielli Rossini)
  • RAGE4 – Web-Enabled Roleplay And Gaming Engine for Second Life: Jeremy Pippin (SL: Luc Aubret)
  • The 2010 Telstra-TJA Christopher Newell Award winning accessibility solution for telecommunications and disability: Dr. Denise Wood (SL: Denlee Wobbit), Charles Morris (SL: Charles Mountain)
  • Cape Able:  Dr. Robert Vernon (SL: Gabrielli Rossini)

Our presentation can be accessed via:

Machinima Basics

Robin Williams (SL: Greylin Fairweather)

Award winning Machinimist Robin Williams will teach you the basics of machinima and film production as well give you the best hints for related software and hardware and tricks the “pros” use to create a video on any budget. A peek at mixed reality and green screening in SL time permitting.

Former teacher Robin Williams was hired by an international corporation after they saw one of her SL machinimas on YouTube. She has been happily working and playing in SL ever since. She was a Keynote Speaker at 3DTLC for Sun Mircrosystems and is currently with Oracle making videos and other projects involving Second Life.

How Community Contribution Opportunities Have Helped the 7Seas Fishing Community

Jen Gagne (SL: Jen Shikami)
The 7Seas Fishing community is a vibrant and fun way for folks to show off their creativity and meet new new people. Learn how we fostered this by opening up the system for community-created add-ons and prizes.

Jen Gagne has been designing and building in Second Life since 2006 for several businesses she shares with her brother Seven: 7Seas Fishing, Seven’s Selections (7Selections) Wings and Fashion, and Insert Coin Arcade.

Almost Like Being There: Second Life Experiences Informing Real World Action

Linda Kelley (SL: Delia Lake)

A meaningful, immersive experience produces lasting memories of having been there, even if that experience is virtual. People care about those places and the people that have reached out and “touched” them.This presentation highlights some robust builds and projects in Second Life® that stimulate “being there” in collaborative explorations and co-creation of options for resolving difficult, far-reaching and important real world environmental and social problems.
Linda Kelley works with individuals and teams to develop the culture of leadership and effective collaboration that make sustainability real and enterprise prosperous. She is a co-author of The Sustainable Enterprise Fieldbook, When It All Comes Together (Greenleaf, 2008) in which she writes about Second Life as a serious medium for trans-organizational collaboration and sustainability networking.

Sojourner Auditorium on Virtual Ability Island

Dr. Robert Vernon (SL: Gabrielli Rossini)
This presentation facility is one of the most accessible in SL. Designed using the principles of Universal Design for Virtual Worlds, the auditorium’s numerous features specifically assist not only people with disabilities, but the general population as well, to fully participate in presentations. Learn about specific design features built in for accessibility.

Dr. Robert Vernon is a professor at the Indiana University School of Social Work. He has conducted numerous courses inside the virtual world, and sponsored graduate student projects in SL.

RAGE4 – Web-Enabled Roleplay And Gaming Engine for Second Life

Jeremy Pippin (SL: Luc Aubret)
RAGE4 is a completely web-enabled RPG engine due for release in September 2010. With RAGE4 you can easily create multi-region RPG games – featuring your own races, classes, and metrics – without any programming knowledge. Our rich gaming model, open API, and free redistributable HUD makes RAGE4 an attractive alternative to closed RPG systems.

Jeremy Pippin has been creating content in Second Life since 2005, and he loves it.

The 2010 Telstra-TJA Christopher Newell Award winning accessibility solution for telecommunications and disability

Dr. Denise Wood (SL: Denlee Wobbit), Charles Morris (SL: Charles Mountain)
This presentation will describe a project funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council involving the design and development of an accessible 3D virtual learning environment. The project, which was awarded the 2010 Telstra-TJA Christopher Newell Award for telecommunications and disability is led by Dr Denise Wood from the University of South Australia (UniSA), and has involved collaboration with various groups in Second Life including Virtual Helping Hands.

Denise Wood is a Senior Lecturer at the University of South Australia. She’s leading a nationally funded project involving the development of an open source, accessible 3D virtual learning platform. Her research focuses on the use of Web 2.0 and 3D virtual worlds to increase the social participation of young people with disabilities and she is a member of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network Standing Advisory Committee on Disability Issues. Charles Morris is a professional freelance software developer with over 20 years of experience. Charles Morris is also the lead developer for Virtual Helping Hands and its various projects.

Cape Able

Dr. Robert Vernon (SL: Gabrielli Rossini)
One of Virtual Ability’s residential sims, Cape Able also houses a Disability Resource Center, an art gallery that displays the works of artists with real life disabilities, and the virtual world’s only Starbucks-authorized Deaf Chat Coffeehouse.

Dr. Robert Vernon is a professor at the Indiana University School of Social Work. He has conducted numerous courses inside the virtual world, and sponsored graduate student projects in SL.

Art in Abundance: Hosting International Digital Art Exhibitions in SL

Bonnie Mitchell (SL:BonnieMitchell Miles)
Mitchell will showcase nine art exhibitions hosted on the Bowling Green State University Virtual Campus since 2007. These include the International Digital Media Arts exhibit “IDEAs”, the 2008 Computational Aesthetics exhibition from Lisbon, Portugal, the 2007 Arcade V exhibition from Perth, Australia, the SIGGRAPH SpaceTime Student Exhibitions 2009-2010, the 2009 FATE: Foundations in Art, Theory, and Education Student Exhibition, the Southern Graphic Council 2009 traveling member exhibition, a rotating BGSU Digital Arts Student Exhibition, Anthony Fontana’s Art 101 Student Exhibit, and BGSU Digital Art graduate student Kuang Hsu’s Second Death Exhibit.

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I had the privilege of attending an event which paid tribute to the late Dr Christopher Newell at the offices of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman on the 19th May.

The Honourable Bill Shorten, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services presented the inaugural Telstra-TJA Christopher Newell prize for Telecommunications and Disability at the event. This award, which is sponsored by Telstra,   recognises and commemorates the ground-breaking work that the late Revd Canon Dr Christopher Newell AM undertook within the telecommunications industry from 1990 to 2008 in representing the needs of people with disability.

The award was presented for the best paper demonstrating the tangible benefits that an innovative use of telecommunications technology can deliver in assisting individuals with disabilities published in the May edition of the  Telecommunications Journal of Australia.

Read more about the award via the following news releases. A podcast of a radio 5RPH interview conducted on the 21st May is available for download.

ALTC–funded research wins prestigious new award (ALTC media release)

Researcher receives award for using social media to support the education of people with disabilities (Media Access Australia article)

Telstra prize highlights the benefits of modern communications for people with disability (Telstra media release).

When user needs drive real innovation (Telstra Exchange)

The award, which is generously sponsored by Telstra,  will be offered again in 2011 and we look forward to more developments in the accessibility of telecommunications in the coming year.

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It was a hectic start to December. From presenting at the ASCILITE conference in Auckland I flew to Sydney to present with colleague, Dr Anna Hickey-Moody from the University of Sydney at the Australian Anthropological Annual Conference held at Macquarie University.

The theme of the conference was the “Ethics of and Politics of Engagement” and the paper we presented was titled the “Ethics of Affect in Second Life” based on our ethnographic research with individuals in Second Life who identify as disabled.

The details of the conference are here: http://www.anth.mq.edu.au/conf/theme/ and you can download the program complete with abstracts: http://www.anth.mq.edu.au/conf/program/AAS2009_program.pdf

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The ASCILITE 2009 conference was held at the University of Auckland from the 6-9th November, 2009. The conference theme  “Same places, different spaces” generated many papers focusing on topics such as blended learning, virtual learning environments, social spaces, mobile and work spaces: http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/auckland09/?m=Programme&s=Themes

I presented a paper based on trials of the use of the 3D virtual world, Second Life, for service learning in which my students undertook projects with disability and health related groups in SecondLife: http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/auckland09/procs/wood.pdf

I also co-presented a co-authored paper with UniSA colleague, Russell Fewster on practice led research in 3D virtual worlds within the performing arts discipline: http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/auckland09/procs/fewster.pdf

Student dancer and avatar dancers performing in Second Life

Looking forward to ASCILITE 2010!

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