The Boston Globe
Software firm lets disabled get their game on
The first preschool games 7128 Software is producing are designed for ages 2 and up.
By Jennifer Batog
Globe Correspondent / August 18, 2008
for Steve Dresser to play Super Mario Brothers with his son. Dresser is blind, and like most other video and computer games, Super Mario was not designed for players with disabilities.
A Salem company, 7128 Software, hopes to change that. It creates computer games everyone can play. While 7128 Software did not specifically target the disabled market when it started 18 months ago, the universal accessibility of the company's games has gained it entry into a potentially lucrative niche market.
Now it's working with the Perkins School for the Blind, of Watertown, to develop and test educational computer games that can be downloaded from the firm's website and played by visually impaired preschoolers.
"What they're doing is incredibly valuable," said Dresser. "Both the blind and sighted can play and enjoy the games, and neither group feels like they're being deprived or cheated."
The games also have closed captioning for the hearing impaired and can be operated through voice activation or a single keystroke, making them accessible for those with mobility issues.
"As long as a person has one sense, they can play the games," said Cyndi Geller, 7128's vice president of sales and marketing. "We've found that there is a need and a place for what we do in these markets."
The firm's current series includes a mystery game called Inspector Cyndi, word games, and memory games. Each contains 12 games and uses the same controls, so players don't need to learn new rules when they switch activities.
Most of the games, including Inspector Cyndi, are compatible with software which converts text files to speech, something many gamers already have on their computers.
The mystery games are set in the late 1800s in Newport, R.I., mansions. To assist players, they include vivid audio descriptions, such as "The room is clean and scented with lavender." Each mansion has a cat that makes a distinct sound. Even the doorbells are distinct, helping gamers to differentiate between settings.
For $25, players can download a game book from 7128's website, www.7128.com. Each book comes preloaded with five games. Additional games are $5 to $10. Players also can purchase the games and game book on a CD for an additional $5.
The idea for preschool games came from the blind community, Geller said. Perkins administrators asked if the firm could devise games for its students, Geller said. The school already uses 7128's games for its older students.
The first preschool games the company is producing are designed for ages 2 and up. Sighted children also can play. In one, Here Comes the Duck, the computer speaks an animal's name and the child hears the sound it makes. For example, the game says "horse" and the child hears a neigh. Players simply hit any key to pull up another animal. A duck appears at random points during the game and chases all the animals away, emptying the screen.
Another game series teaches ABCs. Hitting a key brings up an object that starts with that letter. Then the name of the object is heard, and the sound the letter makes.
In both cases, the game elements also are closed-captioned.
The games, in addition to educational components such as teaching letters and sounds, can help Perkins' students become comfortable with using technology at a young age, said Jim Denham, the school's assistive technology coordinator. That's important because technology is increasingly playing a crucial role in helping disabled people, he said.
"It's technology that our students can use to enhance the educational process," he said. "It just opens up a whole new world to students."
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.