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.
The purpose of the TIM (Tactile Interactive Multimedia)  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.
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.
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.
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:
This list will be refined and updated during the first phase of the project. These are only ideas of planned games or games prototypes under development.
TIM games will be described in a high level generic language describing resources (audio samples, music, texts, pictures, animations) as well as the complete scenario. Those games scripts will be interpreted by a game platform independent of the system.
The platform will have a modular architecture in order to be easily extended. Its modules will include an adaptation component able to automatically adapt the game content depending on the available devices, as well as the user success or level of psychomotor development. Another essential component will be the driver module that should dynamically load any new driver created for an original device.
The principle is to adapt existing toys or software, for example CD-ROM games. This way has several advantages. First we can reuse very rich audio resources, corresponding to hours of recorded messages, music and various sound effects, with coherent educational and ludic contents. All the work of creation of contents is not to be done, and it is only necessary to adapt the interface. Applications derived from games using audio tapes can also be built.
In order to facilitate the port or development of games, a TIM authoring software is planned. It will be able to generate TIM programs with a friendly interface, allowing to completely create the game, from the creation of objects and labels to the design of a scenario.
The adapting tool is destined to be used by different kinds of users in order to adapt computer games for young blind children: educational software publishers, professionals working in special schools or rehabilitation centres, resource centres, parents. It will allow the production of marketable adaptations, in order to ensure that the adapted software can be distributed to as many children as possible.
This work will be completed by parallel tasks like an evaluation by educators of children behaviour confronted to those games; also a study on intellectual property rights issues in order to prepare models of co-operation conventions and models of user licences. And finally, an evaluation and study of cognitive process and educational potential, in the continuation of the work done by INOVA for many years.
Our first concrete realisation of the TIM project are adaptations of French CD-ROMs intended for the 3-8 years old children (from the collections of Bayard-Presse. The principle behind those games was the navigation into a environment illustrated by vocal comments, short stories, musical accompaniment and a few short sound sequences, associated with recognition games.
Another realisation propose a Quizz with about a few thousand questions. The interaction being done through a Braille keyboard or vocal synthesis.
Those games were evaluated by several blind children in their families, and in a few special schools for blind children. The conclusions were very promising.
One of the children was particularly happy to use the computer alone because his sighted brother just 1year older already could do it while he had to be assisted by his parents. The comments from the parents and teachers suggested improvements of the games and ideas for new games.
The use of the computer has some numerous advantages. The main one is perhaps the early use of the computer in itself which transforms its perception by the child. Indeed this tool is becoming increasingly useful in every domain for handicapped children (teaching, everyday life) and an early contact changes it into an everyday tool just like television or any domestic machine. It removes its aura of ``magic'' which made its use more complex for early generations which dealt with it.
Frequently used at school, as an educational tool, the fact of using it to play is significant too. The computer is not only a school object, solely used for work, but it is also a toy (and even work with it can become ludic). Thus work at school with the computer, will be facilitated.
Finally those games can be a great tool for children with additional disability, including cognitive troubles [1,7]. The affective aspect of a direct relationship which is often implicated in cognitive troubles can be avoided by using an impersonal computer. On top of that, the software is very attractive: it stimulates responses, cognitive work from the child. Then it can allow him to react, to interact freely. Thus the child will be able to regain trust in his capacity to learn, to think. In the same time, the educator can place himself as an observer. This may help him to understand where are difficulties, and then work on these difficulties with the child.
These arguments are not specific to visually impaired children, and sighted children can gain the same advantages from using computers early. But these facts are probably more important in the case of handicapped children. Thanks to the TIM program, software designed for sighted children can be adapted to blind children. It allows computers to be a ludic as well as educational and therapeutic tool.
The game prototypes will be evaluated in different sites across 3 countries including special schools for blind children, rehabilitation centres for multi-handicapped blind children, ordinary schools which receive blind children and a parents association.
Those studies will focus on the educative, therapeutic and learning potential. They will be oriented towards visually impaired children's capacity to space and cognitive orientation in the game, transformation of existing games to increase fun and interaction by the children, adaptation of the game so that blind and seeing children can play together.
Those studies will generate a feedback to the software developers and game content designers in order to ameliorate hte games.
The TIM project is funded by the European Commission1, on the program IST 2000 (FP5/IST/Systems and Services for the Citizen/Persons with secial needs) under the reference IST-2000-25298. The project participants include: INSERM U483/INOVA from Université Pierre and Marie Curie, co-ordinator, (France), Les Doigts Qui Rêvent (France), Université du Havre (France), Association BrailleNet (France), Halstad University (Sweden), Sunderland University (United Kingdom), Tomteboda Resource Centre (Sweden) and Virtua Ltd (United Kingdom).