Skip to main content

Voice controls let blind gamer 'hang' with friends online

Debbie Fisher, who's been legally blind most of her life, uses the Voice Over tool to game online with friends.
Debbie Fisher, who's been legally blind most of her life, uses the Voice Over tool to game online with friends.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Blind gamer is able to 'hang with friends' via social gaming
  • Debbie Fisher, 37, has been legally blind for most of her life
  • Using the Voice Over program, she's able to play "Hanging With Friends," a hangman-like game
  • Some games work with voice commands, but Fisher says this one lets her communicate, too

(CNN) -- In recent years, social games have become increasingly prevalent on mobile devices, providing entertainment, yes, but also a way to maintain contact with family and friends.

But for Debbie Fisher, who's legally blind, the visual displays used to play and chat meant they were off limits to her.

Fisher, 37, is a mother of four from Reno, Nevada, who has a genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa. She can only see light and dark shapes and cannot discern details.

Fisher said she has always enjoyed playing games with her family. However, she usually needed other people around in order to be able to play. After she got an iPhone and iPad, she tried playing some of the downloadable games, but due to her visual impairment, she couldn't find a game that she enjoyed and that allowed her to play with her friends.

Fisher uses the Voice Over accessibility program on her mobile devices to help her "see" what's on the screen and interact with it. Still, she said it was tough to find games that were compatible with the program.

"I always get the free version (of games) to make sure it is Voice Over compatible, which is what makes the iPhone and the iPad talk," she said. "If it works, then I'll get the paid version, but I need to make sure it works first."

That's opened up some options. But only one game, she says, has let her both play and communicate with friends.

"Hanging With Friends" (Zynga) is a word game that resembles Hangman, but with a few twists.

One player comes up with a word that another player tries to guess one letter at a time. Get a letter wrong and the balloons holding up your avatar will start popping until there is nothing to save you from the lava pit below.

The game, which debuted in July, is played one-on-one with anyone anywhere. Fisher said "Hanging With Friends" specifically works with Voice Over and lets her "see" what's going on and chat with her family and friends who are playing.

"Playing a game against the computer is one thing. But playing against real people is what makes it so much better," she said.

Paul Bettner, general manager of Zynga With Friends, said they didn't intend to make a game for the visually impaired, but are pleased that their game can be enjoyed by people like Fisher.

"It may seem silly to think that a game can change someone's world, but why not?" Bettner said. " 'Hanging With Friends' was designed so that nearly anyone can pick it up and play and we are very happy and proud to welcome visually impaired players now as well."

Fisher said there are other games that are Voice Over compatible, but they don't allow for the social interaction that "Hanging With Friends" does. She said she hopes more social games will embrace the Voice Over program so she can enjoy them with her family and friends.

" 'Hanging With Friends' really wasn't my type of game until I started playing it," she said. "I wouldn't have even guessed that I'd be so into that game before I started playing it. But I love this game."

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT