Many mainstream games are inaccessible to players who use a single button or switch. Game developers can have a hard time adapting their four-, eight-, twelve-button twitch masterpiece to a one-button interface. AIBICOM (asynchronous interpreter of binary commands) is a one-switch interface different from most others; instead of pushing a button to make an application do something, users only push a button when the program does something they don’t want it to do. With the speed and complex controls AIBICOM makes available to one-switch users, it could be very useful in making games accessible. I’ve written a bit about AIBICOM before; now let’s talk with Jorge Silva, the man who designed AIBICOM’s algorithm.
You describe yourself as a disability engineer. How did you get involved in making products for people with disabilities?
I only know of one other person that calls himself a disability engineer: Prof. James A. Boyless. I adopted the term after visiting his site because I've always thought the concept of "Rehabilitation" is flawed or incomplete at best. To me, disability is a natural consequence of human diversity and should always be an essential part of our society, but rehabilitation and other dominant medical perspectives go the other way. I think that the apparent "disadvantages" of disability only exist in an inaccessible world, so the day the world becomes accessible, it won't matter any more whether we are temporally-able or disabled. That is what got me involved in this field. I just want to give temporarily-able people a chance to realize what we are all missing out on, just by not making things accessible.
In a study of people who didn't normally use one switch interfaces, many participants found AIBICOM more confusing and unpredictable than a 4-directional keypad, even when their performance with each was about the same. Have single-switch users expressed similar frustrations with AIBICOM?
The closest we have gotten to gathering specific reactions from single-switch users has been through a couple of people with mild physical impairments who completed our experimental tests, and from the insights of Michael Dzura, one of our research collaborators who relies on switches and a mouth stick to interact with his environment. The reviews were mixed with a positive balance. AIBICOM is definitely not a straight forward way to control something, however, it seems that the more severe the physical impairments are, the more people are willing to tolerate AIBICOM's drawbacks in exchange for the unprecedented benefits. As an example, Michael used our AIBICOM-based doodling program to make a drawing of Sponge Bob, one of his favorite cartoon characters. It took him about 20 minutes to finish the drawing and he definitely got tired, but the satisfaction of having drawn it himself, made it all worth it for him. Michael has also been helping me enhance the library, so there is still lots of space for improvements. Your readers can take a look at Michael's drawing on the AIBICOM paper I published, which is available on-line, for free, from the Journal of Neuroengineering and Rehabilitation's website.
What are your plans for AIBICOM in the future?
I have no specific plans for the moment, but I am always willing to work with others in order to make anything accessible whether we use AIBICOM or not. This is why AIBICOM, like the rest of my work, is open source, so people other than myself can contribute new and improved solutions and applications. For example, Dr. Milos Popovic at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute is using AIBICOM to create simple but powerful brain-computer interfaces. He thinks AIBICOM has a lot of potential and even contributed a couple of enhancements.
Another thing I've been wanting to do for a while but haven't had the time to finish, is incorporating AIBICOM into the open-source 3D-game Neverball. I used this game originally for my experimental tests and when I told Robert Kooima, the game's creator, about the possibility of making it accessible, he got really excited, so maybe some of your readers could help me hack around the code and make it finally happen!
Are you working on any other projects besides AIBICOM?
At the moment I am coordinating a student engagement project at the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, University of Toronto This project, called SCYP, is focused on increasing the accessibility of mobile devices. The students and I are working on tons of really interesting projects like an indoor positioning system, a head-tracking interface using the Wiimote, and accessible ways to control mobile phones and other appliances. I am also a volunteer with the Tetra Society of North America where I get to do really cool adaptations for people with all sorts of disabilities.
Is there anything else you would like to say that I didn't ask about?
Not really… thanks for asking though!!
But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).
Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.