Making the Nergal citizen science game playable for people with visual impairments

We've just had funding confirmed from Impetus to allow us to work on our Nergal citizen science game to make it accessible for people with visual impairments.

The screen based version of Nergal is still in development (aiming to be ready around Autumn 2024), but we'd like to see if we can make a version that works entirely through sound. There are also lower-hanging fruits to aim for, like a high contrast option within the screen-based game. Usually project funding doesn't allow us to do these things, so it's a real benefit to be in a position where we have time to properly experiment and learn, and it will undoubtedly filter through to how we do other projects in future.

The Nergal game is all about how social decision making changes how diseases spread through communities - like with covid how deciding whether to see friends or stay home changes the risk of getting infected or passing infections on. We think that the cues that people use to make this sort of decision probably aren't universal, and one group that might be quite different are people who have visual impairments or are blind. If you can't see that someone's looking off-colour, how do you know whether you need to take a step back or make your excuses to leave?

For this part of the Nergal project, we'll still be working with epidemiologists Dr. Matthew Silk and Nitara Wijayatilake at the University of Edinburgh, but we're also going to be working with the local charity iSight Cornwall who help people affected by sight loss. Together we'll be running our first workshop in July 2024, where we'll be chatting about sound-based games, social cues and avoiding infections, and maybe starting to make some sounds together that could be used in the game (we have a fab Arturia MicroBrute synth that has worked well before with this group - critically, it has no screen at all). We'll then spend a bit of time prototyping, and we'll come back together in November 2024 to test what we've made - the project ends in January 2025 so we'd expect to be releasing the sound based version before that.

The workshops are already full, but if you have any level of visual impairment and you're interested in this project, definitely do get in touch with us - if you have time, we'd love to have you involved as a tester later in the year, or we can let you know when this version is ready to play.

If anyone's aware of any online citizen science games that have been made accessible in interesting ways, we'd love to hear about them - our impression is that mostly this isn't thought about at all. We're also really keen to hear about any purely sound-based games anyone's enjoyed or find interesting.

IMPETUS is supporting our project. IMPETUS is funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 101058677. Views and opinions expressed are, however, those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

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