The TIM Project:
Tactile Interactive Multimedia computer games for blind and visually impaired children

Dominique Archambault (1,2), Dominique Burger (1) and Sébastien Sablé (1)

(1) INSERM U483 / INOVA -- Université Pierre et Marie Curie
9, quai Saint Bernard -- 75252 Paris cedex 05 -- France

(2) Laboratoire d'Informatique du Havre -- Université du Havre
BP 540 -- 76058 Le Havre -- France

Abstract. TIM is a project whose main objective is to offer to visually impaired children of various levels of psychomotor development the possibility to play computer games in an autonomous way. TIM proposes to develop an adapting tool allowing to design high quality computer games using a tactile and audio interface from existing contents. TIM includes high level research on cognitive psychology and education sciences in order to ensure a high level of quality allowing blind children in early youth to use a computer, like sighted children. The software gives to the computer a double role: ludic and educational. For some children, having additional disabilities, like cognitive troubles, it can have a third role: a therapeutic tool.

1. Introduction

The purpose of the TIM (Tactile Interactive Multimedia) [2] project is to offer computer games intended for visually impaired young children of various levels of psychomotor development. These games are planned to be used by the children in an autonomous way, without assistance of a sighted person, like it is the case for sighted children with hundreds of titles.

To use classic educational software with blind children, a sighted person (often an adult) is necessary. Even if keyboard shortcuts exist or if some software can be accessed using standard access software (like JAWSTM), these can only be used by older children, able to use a computer in an autonomous way. The main purpose of TIM is to allow a completely autonomous use of the games by the youngest ones. The adult has to start the computer and to launch the game. Then the child can figure out how to play alone.

TIM proposes to develop an adapting tool which will allow to design those computer games using different kinds of special devices (tactile, audio, large screen displays) from existing contents. TIM plans to handle all the aspects necessary to ensure the development of high quality games. In that way TIM's adapting tool will include a software and complete material about adaptability, methodology and guidelines. It will also include juridical models for the relations between owners of the existing contents and vendor of the adaptations.

First, TIM's objectives will be described in details, and then the different components we are working on. We will conclude by analysing the results of previous games prototypes and discussing their didactic interest.

2. TIM's objectives

2.1 Target audience

The primary target group for TIM games are children and young persons who are blind or severely visually impaired. TIM is also addressing visually impaired children with additional impairments in form of slight to moderate degree of learning or cognitive disability and/or a physical impairment. The use of tactile board is expected to be of special importance for multi-handicapped children and children on a pre-reading developmental stage.

TIM also aims to access the widest possible concerned population, and in this focus, multilingual features will be integrated from the beginning of the interface development. TIM will allow the game designer to describe the scenario of games regardless of the language, thus providing a way to facilitate the production of CD-ROMs simultaneously in several languages.

2.2 Target hardware

TIM multimodal interface will make it possible to use Tactile Boards, Braille keyboards and displays, standard keyboards and displays, speech synthesis and recognition, or adjustable screen settings. Finally, other specific devices may be built for special purposes.

On top of those devices, a multimedia computer with low configuration (kind of PentiumTM or K6TM, with 32MB) equipped with a sound card, loudspeakers and a CD-ROM drive is enough to use the TIM games. An important effort will be made on portability so that TIM should run under WindowsTM (95 and upper), but also under GNU/Linux, MacOSTM and possibly other systems as well. This should ensure a support of most personal computers systems, always with the same will to be accessible to a maximum of potential users.

2.3 Type of games

There are many different types of games that are compatible with the kind of devices we will use, covering 3 types of games: construction games, school preparation and socio-emotional games.

Here are a few examples from prototypes of games already defined: