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No Second Life For Visually Impaired

02 April, 2007 by Peter Verhoeven

Is a virtual world where U2 gives a virtual concert a game, or a public place to meet others?
Is a virtual world where governments, including european Union (EU), spend money paid by all citizens a game or public place?
The question is, is Second Liefe a game or a public place that has to be accessible for everyone?
Why does not any screen reader or screen magnifier let you access Second Life. Trying to login into Second Life stops speech, braille and magnificaiton.

In november 2006 Peter Abrahams wrote an interesting article in his blog about Second Life and Accesibility.
In his article he says:

"Anyone who is blind, has a severe vision impairment, or anyone who cannot use a pointing device easily, will find SL impossible to enter. Even if they get through the first gate, with the help of a friend, they will find it impossible to navigate around or interact with the objects and avatars in SL."

In a comment on this blog article Joshua Linden from Linden lab, one of the folks who help create the Second Life platform, wrote:

"The world, of course, is created by the residents. We are deeply committed to making Second Life usable by everyone. A large number of Second Life residents have “First Life” disabilities and enjoy the freedoms that a virtual world offers from communication to movement.
However, we’re still a very small company and have limited development resources, so we have not been able to do everything we want to yet! That includes standard interfaces for accessibility tools. We have recently done a substantial rework of our keyboard focus code to make things more predictable. As a benefit that was clearly in mind at the time, this will make it easier to eventually hook up focus-based screen readers (which typically work by interrogating the active application for changes in the displayed text) and support alternative input technologies. This is a much longer term project than simply saying “we support the W3C WAI” since accessibility hooks are built into many Web browsers already, whereas the Second Life viewer is a stand-alone application."

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited more than 5 million people from around the globe.
BTW: I am one of those 5 millon people and never could login, because of Second Life inaccessibility. Most of those 5 million accounts are never used and interesting for the media. In practice mostly I read that there are 20 thousand people online and 1.6 million logged in last 60 days.

But the above numbers do not say anything about the future. What if Second Life realy is going to mean in first life? What if Second Life becomes realy a public place for meeting others in first life?

In Second Life virtual houses are build, virtual clothes are made and sold by virtual "Linden dollars". Some people have cashed these virtual "Linden dollars" for real US dollars and some people say, that Second Life is just nothing mor than a pyramid game.

But you can also get virtual clothes and other objects in Second Life for free. But if you realy want a virtual piece of land with a virtual house you need virtual money, that you can buy by real money.

Linden Labs have made there Second Life client viewer open source. This means, that it now is possible to program other interfaces on Second Life.
You can for example think about a virtual world with more sound instead of 3-D effects. About speech support or video description of 3-D effects.

It would be nice if European Uninon spend our moneyo make these projects accessible instead of improving inaccessibilty!
It would be nice if European Union and other governmetal organizations use public money to make it a public place, instead of using it as a way to promote themselves!

I think that it is very difficult to make the current client viewer of Second Life accessible.
If you launch the Second Life viewer with a screen magnifier like ZoomText, Lunar or iZoom, magnification will be turned off.
If you access the Second Life Client viewer with a screen reader like Hal, Jaws or Window-Eyes, nothing will be spoken aloud, nothing will apear on your braille line.

With the free Desktopzoom magnifier I could magnify the login screen, enter my login name and password, but after logging in, magnification was turned off and I couldn't bring it up again.

The programmer of Desktopzoom told me, that both programs Second Life Viewer and Desktopzoom both try to get at the top of each other. That is the reason you see the flickering of the login screen in Second Life client viewer, while running Desktopzoom.

Also Dolphin looked seriuosly at the inaccessibility of Second Life:

"Unfortunately Second Life will not work with Supernova at this time.
The problem that you face with trying to run Second Life with magnification software is that the game will call up the extended functions of the video card (namely Direct 3D, DirectX and OpenGL - Languages for creating and manipulating high speed 3D graphics).

In order to create magnification, the Dolphin software intercepts information passing to the video card. Whilst under normal conditions this poses no problem, the extended functions of the video card being called by the game cannot get intercepted and therefore will not be magnified.

Second Life also relys on modern computer's ability to move information around the system very quickly. The act of intercepting the information for the video card when Second Life is running is enough extra workload for the computer to be visibly noticeable. The impact of this interception is not so evident under other circumstances.

Also, the Direct Draw system uses a method of writing to the screen whereby most data is bypassing the normal display chain, so Supernova does not "see" what is on screeen. Because of this, when the screen is magnified and you move the mouse over Second Life, the screen may appear to "wipe away" , as Supernova doesn't know it is there.

If the situation with Second Life changes I will let you know, as I know a number of clients who have enquired about this."

As you can read in the answer of Dolphin, a very modern computer is needed to run the Second Life Client reader. That means that not only people with visually impairment cannot access the virtual world of Second Life. What percent of world's population has a computer that meets the needs of Second Life client Viewer?

As long Second Life can only be accessed by a very small number of people I think it is just a game and governments have nothing to do there!

Sometimes I have the impression that every day there are more articles written about Second Life, than there are visitors. Maybe it is a world of Journalists only?

But if this is the true they make me curious and I can not wait until an accessible client becomes available!
But in such an accessible client I also like to see the clouds moving and the sun go up and down with my remaining vision.

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