American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Winter 2019 TECHNOLOGY
by Patricia Costantino
From the Editor: Educational games play an increasingly important role in today's classrooms. Unfortunately, blind students have not had access to the inexhaustible array of games that are available to their sighted classmates. In this article Patricia Costantino relates the history of Blindfold Games and explains how game developer Marty Schultz is creating accessible games that help teach the Expanded Core Curriculum to blind students.
Sometimes the unplanned, unexpected happenings in life can lead to the most fulfilling and transformational moments. Such was the case for businessman Marty Schultz, the creator of Blindfold Games—the first ever series of gaming apps for the visually impaired.
Marty Schultz is a successful technology entrepreneur who has built and sold several software companies during his career. He lives with his family in South Florida. In 2013 Schultz noticed that his daughter, who was in elementary school at the time, would write and rewrite a new birthday wish list every day. He knew there had to be an easier way. At about the same time, the headmaster at his daughter's school got wind of Schultz's technology acumen and asked him to volunteer with an App Design Club. After meeting three times a week for six weeks, the club members created the WishToList app. The app made list-making and updating easy and shareable.
Following this successful run Schultz was invited to teach the App Design Club again. The school also asked him to conduct a programming class for middle-school students. In the programming class, Schultz challenged the students to do something truly innovative. He told them to create a game that didn't require a screen.
After considerable trial and error, the students created the model for Blindfold Racer, a game in which players drive by ear instead of by eye. Six months later teens at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind tested the app and deemed it a rousing success. From there Blindfold Racer was launched in the App Store, where it quickly rose to the top of the charts for accessible games for the visually impaired. News of Blindfold Racer spread rapidly, and soon Schultz was receiving words of praise—and lots of game suggestions—from visually-impaired people the world over. Marty Schultz knew he had stumbled upon something truly special.
Meetings with the Carroll Center for the Blind and Perkins School for the Blind led to even more gaming suggestions. At one point four people, all leaders from organizations of the visually impaired, stayed up all night playing Blindfold Racer. Eagerly they shared their ideas about what worked, what didn't work, and what made the game special.
Unlike most accessible games, where accessibility is bolted on after the game has been developed, Blindfold Games are built from the ground up matching tactile gestures to game play. The player doesn't have to search on the screen for the right button to double tap for each and every game action. Instead, tactile gestures match game action. Not only does this innovation make game play faster and more natural; it truly opens up the world of gaming to visually-impaired people.
Two short years after Blindfold Racer appeared, the Blindfold Games collection included about twenty games and earned the Developer of the Year Award from Apple Vis. The next year, in collaboration with players in the Blind Bowling League, Schultz and his team created Blindfold Bowling. The game received high praise from many appreciative bowlers who were able to relive the bowling experience once again. The soaring popularity of the games led to a worldwide Blindfold Racer Championship. Approximately one thousand visually-impaired people played over a period of one month, and five thousand people followed along on social media. Thousands of dollars in prizes were given out to the winners.
To date, Blindfold Games has released more than eighty games that promote learning through gamification. More than 25,000 visually-impaired people of all ages from around the world enjoy Blindfold Games. Recently the games surpassed the 500,000th download.
A few years ago Marty Schultz started to hear from teachers of the visually impaired. They were using some of the games, including Blindfold Barnyard, Blindfold Hopper, and Blindfold Racer, to help their students practice skills in an educational setting. This discovery opened the door to many engaging conversations with members of the teaching community. In fact, the ideas for Blindfold Battleship and Blindfold 3D Tic-Tac-Toe came at the suggestion of a teacher.
Marty's meetings with the directors of several leading national organizations that serve blind children and adults echoed the need for more educational games. In May 2018 Schultz conducted a survey of teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialists. He expected to hear from only a few dozen respondents. Instead he received more than one thousand responses!
Teachers told Schultz that they were using the games for two purposes. First, they were great rewards when visually-impaired students completed their assignments. Second, they helped students practice key skills. Teachers mentioned that prior to their use of the games, they might visit a child every few weeks and repeat the same lesson over and over again. When teachers let children play a Blindfold Game that exercised a particular skill, the children progressed without ever realizing that they were practicing.
Schultz wanted to determine whether a series of games based on the Expanded Core Curriculum would be supported as a viable business model. He attended several conferences across the country, soliciting feedback wherever he went. Armed with support from educators, parents, and the visually-impaired community, he and his team formed a new company, ObjectiveEd. The company's aim is to make learning more fun for visually-impaired students from Pre-K to 12th grade.
The ObjectiveEd games will be based on the goals and objectives in a student's Individual Educational Plan (IEP). They will be stored in a secure cloud so that teachers and parents can evaluate a student's progress in real time. The first ObjectiveEd games will be available for download on iPhone, iPad, and Android devices early in 2019. Initially the games will be rolled out in English, with plans for Spanish, French, and Mandarin versions to follow.
What started as a small way for a father to give back to his daughter has opened the door to providing new outlets for fun and learning for tens of thousands of visually-impaired people the world over. When serendipity is at play, there's truly no limit to the magic it can create.