Blind in Minecraft

Minecraft: The game which gives you a parallel world modelled after the real world, but where you can build whatever you want, do whatever you want, and run your life whatever way you want. You’ve got a world that works in a similar way to the real world – you still need to find food, build shelter, and even buy and sell goods in villages – but with the freedom to develop the world and live in it however you want. You can settle on the plains and build a ranch with some crops and animals and a stable for your horses, or you can hollow-out a fully-automated food and materials production plant underneath a jungle. You can tend to your animals when you feel like it, and afterwards you can stay up all night fighting monsters (if that’s your thing) or you can head into your house and put some music on while you craft new tools or you can settle into bed for the night and wake up fresh and ready to go exploring the next morning. And with a game like this, it’s natural that I’m going to pretend to be blind in the virtual world as well as the real world – after all, I can do so whenever I want!

While Minecraft isn’t accessible to blind gamers, there is a way to greatly reduce your vision in Minecraft and play as a blind character in the game (or one who is pretending to be blind). I’ve added this to my main survival world, and enjoy spending whole days or more blind in Minecraft, just like in real life! In this post, I’ll explain the mechanism behind this and how to do it yourself.Read More »

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Another look at A Blind Legend

I wrote a review a few months ago of the recently-released “A Blind Legend” audio-only game for mobile devices. When I wrote the review, I had only played the game for half an hour or so, and already I was impressed with the quality of the 3D audio and the gameplay looked promising, but I wanted to come back after I’d played the game and take a more in-depth look at the gameplay itself. That review has received a lot of views on my blog, so here’s the follow-up.Read More »

Inquisitive Girl

Many transabled people have written about the young, open minds of children when it comes to disabilities. It even features in a lot of fiction written by transabled people for transabled people. After all, we have a unique perspective on the world, experiencing it both as a disabled person and a non-disabled person, and we can take an outside view on the way that people with disabilities are treated by society, having experienced this ourselves first-hand. And now I have my own story to tell.

I was heading towards the bus stop while pretending, and I must admit that I was a bit lost. This bus stop has two shelters and three places where the buses can stop, and even though I knew which part of the stop I needed to head for  knowing which part of the stop I’m actually at is a different matter. Presumably I looked lost too, for as I approached the stop an old lady (at least, I assume she was old because her voice sounded weak and worn) grabbed my arm – yes, I know it’s annoying when people do that – and asked me “are you OK?”. I said that I was needing the number 6 bus to Middleton (I’ve removed identifying details from this post) and asked if I was at the correct stop, which she confirmed. She then guided me to the bench in the bus stop and begged me to sit down, with which I complied considering that I had just missed the 15:42 bus and would have to wait half an hour for the next bus.

I hadn’t been sitting there long before I heard a young girl’s voice (about ten years old) at my two o’clock, and she seemed to be talking to a middle-aged woman who had arrived on my left (the latter of which was not her mother but did seem to be related to her in some way). She was asking the older woman to sing a song “from the 21st century”, although of course in the style typical of children her age she didn’t wait for a response before explaining that her mother was born in the 20th century but she was born in the 21st century and that the 22nd century would come in the year 2100. Feeling that such a comment would be appropriate for her age, I interjected in a casual manner by saying “yes, because the centuries are counted from 1 but the years are counted from 0”.

A few more minutes of silence ensued, and during this time I contemplated what I would say if anyone asked me about my blindness. This isn’t something that I’ve really had to consider before, and I was perturbed by pretending in public on my own without having a cover story ready. And rightly so, because just then the same girl that I had heard speaking before asked me “were you born with your eyes closed?”.Read More »

A Blind Legend game review

Sometime during the first half of last year, I came across a new video game being developed for iOS, Android, and more recently Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X (the desktop versions were not available at the time of writing so please note that this review focuses on the mobile versions only). Unlike almost every other video game, it was intended to be played using sound only, making it accessible to blind players. Furthermore, the main character in the game – and the character which the player plays as – is in fact blind, and as someone with an interest in technology, an interest in accessible software for the blind, and considerable experience with pretending to be blind in real life, I was very interested in the game and intended to play it as soon as it was released, which was supposed to be some time in October last year. It was released, I believe, on time, although it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I finally got round to downloading it, and only this morning did I get a chance to play the first few scenes.

I’d like to start off by saying that the game is as impressive as I was hoping it would be. The environments and game play feel incredibly realistic and immersive, and the player gets into the first-person role quite quickly. This is one game that you’ll definitely want to have plenty of time to try out.Read More »

Armless, the movie

A few days ago I watched the film “Armless”. Having previously seen Quid Pro Quo, I was hoping for a similar nice overview of BIID but with more of a lighthearted touch, as the film was supposed to be a comedy. This, I thought, would be an interesting mixture and something that I believe the right filmmakers could have pulled off very well.

Let me start by saying that it failed at both. It’s probably the worst representation of BIID that I have seen from the media (even worse than the recent Jewel Shuping story), and this is particularly disappointing considering that this film was released two years later than Quid Pro Quo, the latter of which gave an almost perfect representation. The comedy elements are also rather cheap, and are incredibly thin and dry most of the time. The plot also remains rather flat, and the ending is disappointing although could have been better with a different build-up.

Nevertheless there were a few funny moments, and perhaps two continued gags. There’s plenty to keep a viewer laughing on the surface for most of the film, but it’s not the kind of in-depth, well-planned comedy that I value. And considering that there is pretty much no value in the film from a BIID perspective – if anything it does more harm than good – I can’t see any reason for someone to watch this film over and above any other mediocre comedy, BIID sufferer or otherwise.

I’ve given a more in-depth look at the film below, however this section contains spoilers. You have been warned.Read More »

Quid Pro Quo, the movie

Yesterday I decided that I really ought to watch the film “Quid Pro Quo”, a.k.a. the BIID film. I’ve known about it pretty much since I first started researching BIID, but so far I had not thought to watch it.

Overall I’d say that it was a good film. Bearing in mind that this is 2008 that we’re talking about, it gives a surprisingly accurate representation of BIID, considering the usual mis-portrayals that the media somehow manage to come out regarding even things as common as blindness. Although it focuses specifically on the paralysis variant of BIID, one could easily apply the ideas suggested to any other variant.

On the other hand, the plot had numerous holes in it and was not exactly consistent, generally falling apart in places and the end of the film could quite easily be from a different story to the beginning – although that might have been the intention. The general tone is that of a drama with a bit of a thriller thrown in in places, and the plot and portrayal thereof also has quite a heavy psychological element.

As someone with BIID, I’d say that the film hit home with me in a lot of places, despite me personally having the less-common blindness variant of BIID, and I could frequently identify with the characters. I also found that the depicted relationships between the paralysed protagonist and the “wannabes” was very close to the real-life experiences of people with BIID that I have read about. Nevertheless I found the “creepy” aspect a bit offputting in the beginning and slightly offensive, although this softened as I got further into the film.

For someone without BIID, I can’t see much in the film that makes it exactly amazing. The plot is interesting, and contains a lot of small details about BIID which are actually true, so from an informational point of view the film is better than one would expect for something of this nature, but I can’t imagine someone without BIID really being able to engage with the story. The numerous plot holes also detract from this element, and quite frankly I think the film is of rather poor quality apart from its informational accuracy. For someone trying to learn more about BIID, however, I would say that the film does offer a good overview however it is important to bear in mind the factual inaccuracies which I will point out below.

I’ve given a more in-depth look at the film below, however this section contains spoilers. You have been warned.Read More »

Eye pressure

I don’t get it. I squashed my eyes until the intraocular pressure was way past that of anyone with glaucoma. I squeezed my fingers in until the tips were literally inside my eye sockets. I pressed down until my eye felt like a hard ball, about to explode with any further compression, and in so much pain that I almost threw up. Yet still I can see as perfectly as always.

Micheal Johnson

When BIID bites…

The past few weeks have been very quiet for me as far as BIID goes. Yes it’s still been there, but I haven’t thought about pretending for a long time and I can’t say that I’ve felt as if I need to pretend. I’m not sure why this is, and I still suspect that it might be a mental blockage spilt over from the incident at college which continues to haunt me to this day (I have flashbacks almost every day to that moment when I was told not to use my cane at college – I didn’t quite capture in that post exactly how much it hurt me), but nevertheless it’s been that way for a good few weeks now and I kind of hoped that maybe I was “recovering” from BIID, or whatever this blindness thing of mine is.

But no, I was wrong. It only takes one small thing to set it off again. Testing the screenreader on my new computer didn’t do it. Disposing of Braille labels that had worn flat didn’t do it. Neither did packing my cane away in the garage on Friday last week (considering that I wasn’t using it anymore) do it. Yes, it really seemed like I was cured. In some ways I was loathed to lose this “other part” of me – this blind, but not physically blind, part – but nevertheless it would be better in the long run if BIID went away. But as I say, it didn’t. For some reason it started coming back to me again last night. Although I think that happens every Saturday night, probably because Saturdays were always the days when my mother and I went out with me pretending to be blind. But that’s not what I’m talking about now.Read More »

Custom Debian systems

Ever set up a new Ubuntu installation only to then attempt to remove most of the installed packages? I have, when I wanted to put a small, fast-to-boot, command-line only live Linux system on the backup hard drives to facilitate backing up the computer without an optical drive. And it was a real pain, because I pretty soon had a broken Ubuntu system which nevertheless had a lot of clutter left behind from packages that I didn’t even know were there until I removed a dependency thereof. Fortunately I gave up on trying to “slim down” an Ubuntu system and turned to Google for an answer.

This should have been much easier to find, but it wasn’t, and that’s why I’m posting it here: Debian. Debian live, to be precise. Yes, unless you specifically choose a version that includes a graphical desktop, you get just a basic command-line interface with a number – but not an excessive number – of common Linux tools included. Exactly what I needed.

But the real power of this “base” Debian system is not how little software comes pre-installed, but rather how much software is available. You’ve got the full Debian package repositories available – the same repositories that projects such as Ubuntu are based off of – and combined with the slim system that you get either in the live environment or after installation, you’ll be building up your perfect system from modular blocks rather than stripping it down from a pile of bloat.Read More »

Most accessible: Ubuntu MATE

Yes, that’s right. The most accessible Linux distro that I’ve used so far is not Vinux, a purpose-built Ubuntu remix designed for blind users. Neither is it the standard Ubuntu with the Unity desktop environment. It’s Ubuntu MATE.

But why? Well, let’s start with standard Ubuntu. The Orca screenreader works out of the box and is easily launched with a simple keyboard combination (alt+winkey+s for those who are interested), and pretty much all of the installed software works nicely with it, including LibreOffice which relies on a bridge between Java and the Linux ATK framework for Orca to work with it. The only thing which doesn’t work nicely with the screenreader is… the desktop itself. Switching between multiple windows of the same application in the Unity desktop environment ideally requires one to see the thumbnails of the windows. Pinning and rearranging items in the launcher is impossible without the mouse (or at least so difficult that even I can’t figure it out). Let’s not even mention the dash – it crashed the screenreader every time I tried it.

Now I’ll tell you a secret about Vinux: it’s really just Ubuntu under a different name. You’d think that it’s been “tweaked” a little to make it more accessible – in fact that’s what they claim on their website – but actually it hasn’t. Short of being configured with a different wallpaper and login sound, a larger mouse pointer, and a screenreader that starts up by default rather than by pressing a key combination, there’s pretty much no difference between Vinux and Ubuntu. It’s got the same Unity desktop environment with the same accessibility issues as standard Ubuntu. Furthermore, for some reason LibreOffice isn’t installed by default and it doesn’t work with the screenreader when one installs it from the package repositories – the latter of which are almost completely broken due to numerous mis-matched package versions which prevent apt from installing additional packages that depend on them. In short, Vinux is a hacked-up Ubuntu system that doesn’t offer any genuine advantage in terms of accessibility for blind users.Read More »