Most assistive technology helps persons with disabilities learn, communicate, or build skills essential for self-sufficiency and adult independence.
Living a full life, however, requires access to sports and recreation -- activities that motivate, promote wellness, and provide opportunities to build social bonds and to have fun.
Technology makes many sports and games -- even ones where vision seems essential -- accessible to persons who are blind or visually impaired.
Below are profiles of five such products
The Audio Dart Master is an electronic dartboard that uses synthetic speech and sound affects to make the game of darts accessible to blind players. In addition to emitting stereo "pings" or screams (for the game "Killer"), the board also explains the rules for 12 different games and provides online help.
Players select games, set the number of players, and insert names using arrow keys. Each player throws their darts and hits the "Change Player" arrow. The board prompts the player to remove the darts and then calls the next player to their turn. Players can also see who's up and check the score using the Stats key. The nylon-tipped darts, which can weigh no more than 18 grams, are sharp enough to stick, but won't damage the board's electronics.
Audio Dart Master also provides details on where darts land -- combining point values and clock-face terms -- to help target subsequent shots. The feedback also enables blind players to learn the board's layout.
The BeepKickball is a beep-emitting playground ball designed to make the classic children's game of kickball accessible to players who are blind or visually impaired.
The beeping mechanism is installed in a red Rhino Skin Super Special foam ball designed for both indoor and outdoor play. The ball measures 10 inches in diameter and has a patented tear-proof coating that can withstand dew, but is not waterproof.
The ball has four holes, one of which has a recessed on/off switch to activate the beep, supplied by two piezoelectric amplifiers that pulse at 92 decibels. The other holes accommodate two speakers and the battery unit. Cover both speaker holes with hands to quiet the beep during play. The beeper runs on two replaceable 12-volt batteries that last about 15-20 hours.
The BeepKickball is available online from the Beep Kickball Association for $135 (includes tax and shipping).
The Eko-Aims E-BSS is a laser-based shooting system designed for blind and visually impaired persons, especially biathletes. The rifle scope fires an infrared beam that system software converts into sound. Through headphones wired to a computer, the shooter aims and listens for beeps and tones that change as the light traverses the target. Beeps quicken and become continuous and higher pitched the closer the beam is to the bull's eye.
Blind biathletes use the technology in most international competitions, including the Winter Paralympic Games. The system includes: an Eko-Aims E-BSS rifle, headphones, E-Di2 display, power equipment and cables, target, and transport/storage case.
ErgChatter is free software that uses synthetic speech to announce what's displayed on the monitors of Concept2 PM3 or PM4 rowing machines.
The program is designed to make performance data accessible to blind and visually impaired rowers. Statistical availability enables rowers to measure progress and compete online. Users download ErgChatter to a BrailleNote, laptop, or pocket PC and connect their device to the Concept2 monitor. Rowers can select which data is spoken and how frequently. They can also select pre-programmed workouts from their keyboard. Rowers listen through headphones or speakers (device or external).
Erg Chatter can announce stroke rate per minute, average split speed, total elapsed time, and calories burned. During timed workouts, the audible updates come every 20 seconds; during distance workouts, every 100 meters. The program can also speak stats on compatible, wireless heart-rate monitors.
On the surface, scuba diving seems purely visual. But blind persons can experience many of the sport's sublime thrills. One adaptation that makes scuba diving safe and accessible is a full-face mask equipped with an ear microphone -- such as the OTS Interspiro Divator MKII ($865-$905).
Full-face masks enable divers, dive buddies, and instructors to maintain constant communication. This ensures safety and enables instructors to provide details and descriptions that help orient and create context for blind divers. For example, the mask enables Diveheart founder Jim Elliott swim backward through a shipwreck and tell its tale to blind divers pulling themselves along the hull.
The U.S. Navy Experimental Diving Unit has approved Interspiro line for Naval use. An unmanned Duke University test found the Divator II reliable at a depth of 1,800 feet.
The Interspiro Ear/Microphone Assembly can, with the right technologies, be used for both through-water or hardwire communications. A BuddyPhone installed on the full-face mask provides a cheaper, more compact option for through-water communications.