Text-Based Viewer Opens Virtual Worlds to the Blind

Note: The below article has been reposted. It is copyrighted by the author, Celene Highwater. All rights reserved.
Text-Based Viewer Opens Second Life and Other Virtual Worlds to New Community

By Celene Highwater

Copyright Celene Highwater. All rights reserved.

Second Life is a virtual world that functions much like the real world. There are towns, businesses, clubs, theme parks, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, libraries, movie theaters, concert venues and scenic locations like beaches and mountain ranges. It offers the unique ability to explore the world from your computer. And contrary to what some may think, Second Life is anything but an online game to those deeply involved.

For the disabled, Second Life offers the opportunity to experience things that might not be possible to experience outside virtual reality. For those in a wheelchair, hiking the Rocky Mountains, dancing, and bicycling can be treasured experiences along with the novelty of simply being able to walk.

For sighted users, Second Life is a challenge to master and an ongoing learning experience. But what if you were a new user with disabilities using a screen-reader and a text-based viewer to navigate the world instead of your eyes?

Meet a new and growing community of blind and visually impaired Second Life users who, for the first time in history, have access to the world of virtual reality. For these users, playing games that were not totally text-based was an inconceivable prospect just a few short years ago. But now, thanks to a new text-based viewer called Radegast, they are blazing the trail for the blind community at large as they discover the wonders of virtual life.

During a recent interview, I asked Latif Khalifa, the creator of Radegast, what inspired him to create the program.

“I was interested in understanding the network communications between Second Life client and server,” he explained. “So in 2006, a group of developers reverse engineered the SECOND LIFE protocol and a library was created that allowed 3rd party software to connect to SECOND LIFE for the first time. Prior to this, only the official Second Life client could be used for logging in. But this was just a software library, not something that a normal person could use,” he continues. “I was looking around to see if there was someone who had already used the library to create a user-friendly client. I found one called SECOND LIFEeek, but it was pretty buggy and limited. So I decided to rewrite it, add functionality, make it more user friendly. And that's how Radegast was born. This was in 2009.”

Since then, Radegast has undergone numerous updates and now has a user base of 20,000 users. And thanks to its simplistic interface—with text-based menus, inventory management, and a window that displays objects in atext-only list, that user base is increasingly including blind and visually impaired people interested in trying out Second Life.

“My intention with Radegast was to allow people to instant message with their SECOND LIFE friends when they could not use the full graphical viewer. For instance from work, or from computers that were not fast enough to run the full viewer,” Latif explained. “Later Mojito Sorbet who was in contact with some people at Virtual Ability alerted me of the fact that Radegast was screenreader friendly and that it is being used by the blind to login and enjoy Second Life. To be honest, I did not think of this when originally starting Radegast, but I was delighted to hear that the project had this nice side effect. Mojito had the idea to make the speech plugin, and even though she never used the programming language Radegast was written in, she managed to write it. She also wrote the interface for SECOND LIFE Voice and contributed greatly to improving the usability of Radegast for the blind.”

The first confirmed blind user of this new program was me. I had tried to join SECOND LIFE several years before via an experimental website called Text-SL. By the time I found it it was no longer functional and I gave up in despair. I quickly realized that the world of virtual reality, like all the other interactive games online that I wanted to participate in, was inaccessible to me because there was no text to accompany the graphical interfaces. So I went back to text-based online games and kept on dreaming of the day when technology would progress enough to allow me access.

Two years later I was sitting at my computer feeling sorry for myself and wishing with all my heart that Second Life was accessible when a family member decided to take matters into his own hands. He logged into Second Life. After asking around inworld, he found his way to Virtual Ability Sanctuary. And as the old saying goes: the rest is history.

I downloaded a copy of Radegast and started learning how to use it with no clue how accessible it was and with no instruction manual to guide me.

What I did have was a supportive community of SECOND LIFE users who were determined to help me try.

One of these users was Roxie Marten, who became my mentor and learned Radegast right alongside me.

“Honestly when I trained you I was flying by the seat of my pants. I had used Radegast to run a bot to tend bar for me,” she said during an interview.

The bot she is referring to goes by the name of Tik Tok. Using two computer monitors, one displaying Radegast and the other Firestorm, a 3d-only viewer , Roxie simulated actions using Tik Tok and then relayed how she performed those actions to me. I was then able to replicate what she’d done using Radegast and thus the learning via trial and error began.

If what we did sounds complicated, that’s because it was. When Roxie wasn’t working with me, I spent hours using trial and error to learn to navigate Second Life and interact with people and objects. My motivation to keep going was seeing all that SECOND LIFE had to offer, and the new window of opportunity that would open up when I would discover something new. I found the virtual world an inspiring place where a destination was just a teleport away and friends were easy to find thanks to Virtual Ability.

Roxie said it well in her interview: “We help each other; that is the spirit of Virtual Ability. We are a collection of disabilities: blind, deaf, paraplegics,quadriplegics, amputees, wounded warriors. We all come together to help each other. We are a community of disabled people who work for each other.”

Launched in 2007 by Second Life resident Gentle Heron, Virtual Ability is a virtual community of support for those with physical, mental and emotional disabilities and their family/caregivers. The mission of VAI as it is called in Second Life, is to enable those with disabilities to thrive and interact within a virtual world.

“I came into SECOND LIFE with some friends who were looking, as I was, for a way to still socialize and be active, despite our level of disability. As we became more disabled, we were less and less able to get out of our homes and do the things we used to enjoy doing. I looked in SECOND LIFE for a cross-disability peer support group, and did not find one. From there, Virtual Ability just grew.”

The community, which now has nearly one thousand members in Second Life alone, is a thriving hub of activity with weekly events, classes and support groups. The members who make up the community each have their own unique stories, and thanks to Virtual Ability’s commitment to helping them, they are able to do things they couldn’t imagine doing in real life. For example, someone with developmental disabilities who can’t function easily or safely in the greater SECOND LIFE world can function in Virtual Ability. They can have a home of their own and even drive a car.

This had a profound impact on me when I started thinking about Second Life as a whole and the benefits it could have on those with not only mental limitations or paralysis, but those with visual disabilities. So I committed to learning everything I could about Radegast with the hope of launching a program for those screen-reader users.

In May of 2013, we launched an ambitious project to create the first user guide for the viewer, compiling all we had learned and sharpening new skills along the way. After seven months this guide was completed and has now been incorporated into the viewer as the official help guide.

To learn more about Virtual Ability go to their official website: http://www.virtualability.org

To check out and obtain a copy of Radegast visit: https://radegast.life/

Forum: 

It Works wth Mac

It works with Mac and this topic was posted here with permission of Applevis. :) I hope it is in the right place.

Will Check It Out

Thanks for posting this. Back in 2009 or so when this whole project first began, I posted some stuff about it to social media for my job. Back then I was using Windows and there wasn't much to do here, but this definitely sounds like it's taken off. Several people, including colleagues at my job, have told me that they think this would be good for me to try out since my independent travel skills in the real world aren't that great. That's a whole story inandof itself, but suffice it to say I've not had much if any formal travel training for a very long time.

Second Life

I'm glad this project is starting back up again, in regard to Radegast. I'm also glad that it'll be accessible on MacOS soon, however there seems to be quite a lot of cons using Text Viewers.

I found that when I logged into SL a few years ago with Radegast, 2014 or so? I found that all I could do was teleport around and chat. When I hear about all the things sighted people can do with the official 3D viewer, it's pretty awesome. Are there any accessible activities blind people can actually do? I've teleported around to clubs, arcades that, when I tried to interact with games they seemed pretty inaccessible--can some items and objects only be interacted with using the official SL viewer?
It's a bit of a downer when my activities are severely limited, and it's even more of a downer that I don't have any list of activities that I can do, primarily on my own until I make some friends on it.
When sighted people are doing more than just chatting and making some real cash on SL and we can't take part in things like that... Why settle for just teleporting around and chatting? I can do better than that IRL.

Second Life

Radegast is already available for Mac OS. Has been for years.

As someone who has been in Second Life for five years, I can tell you there is so much more to do there than chat and teleport. There are very few things we can not do inworld and sim owners and developers are usually very receptive to making things more accessible.

Second Life is not for making money. It is a virtual world. Some of us do make in game money, but we do it for fun. It is not a get-rich scheme. Playing games in world to make money is just a passtime for a lot of us. Second Life is so much deeper than that.

There are lots of blind users in Second Life. They all have their own interests.

Second Life is not something you learn overnight, it takes time to master as it is a huge virtual world. But this is true for sighted people as well.

Some of the things I personally love doing inworld are: going to balls, ice skating, taking carriage rides, going to events with friends, fishing, participating in world wide games like Gold Hunt, exploring sims, etc.

Each person has to find his or her own nitch inworld. But it is a great thing and very rewarding for those who take the timeto learn.

Again, if you're only interested in making money in Second Life, then it's probably not for you.

Anyway, sorry for te long post. I just want to clear up any misconceptions about SL because I love it so much and know what it is like from experience. I encourage you to give it a chance if it sounds like something you'd like. It is a great place.

Mac Version of This client?

HI, when I look on the website, I only see Windows installers, is this available to Mac users? Or is this something that's still not yet available on Mac OS?

Mac

Hi! The viewer has just changed websites within the last week. I have sent an inquery to the dev about this.

The one who originally developed Radegast passed away and someone else has taken it over. So bare with her.

Try Radegast.org for the Mac version. The version will not be up-to-date but I assume it is still there. I will even go check just to be certain.

It Is Available for Mac

Yes, the Mac version is on the old Radegast site. I went and checked just to be certain. I am sure she will be uploading the Mac version to the new site. For now, I would suggest getting 2.18. It is older but does work as well.

Podcast or YouTube video explaining steps for how to do this?

I am probably not the only person who would like this. Could someone please post a YouTube video or podcast explaining how this interface sounds. How it is used. Giving some examples. And letting us know how to set up an account with second life so we can all do it right. Thank you for the help I really appreciate it.

I've seen

I've seen the mac version, but for some reason I can't run it on my system. Mac book air 11-inch, late 2013 model, OS 10.12.5.

Re: I've Seen

Hmm. I'm sorry you weren't able to run the installer. I am waiting to here from the developer. I'm sure she's going to be uploading the updated Mac version to the new site. She probably hasn't had time yet.

I will let her know you couldn't run the installer though. :)

Again, I'm sorry it's not working. I have no idea why. It is the version that Latif created before he died. So she is updating everything. And since I don't use a mac, I have never tried that installer.

Update

I had an e-mail in my inbox when I checked just now. The dev says she uses mac and is aware that the mac version tends to crash more often than the windows version. This will be fixed.

I also reported the installer issue. The version she will release will be much more stable as she will be able to iron out the kinks.

Installed X11

I just installed X11 before supper, and VoiceOver reported that the installation was successful. I guess I'll wait a few days to install the other parts of this then if people are having issues. I'm at my parents' place for the weekend anyway, and am leaving to go out of town tomorrow with most of my family. So I guess this will give the new developer time to iron things out. I've other things to do on here in the meantime. I'm sure she'll get everything up and running pretty soon. It sounds like she's pretty responsive to user feedback, which is good. I just registered on the Radegast forum, and the process was pretty straightforward for me. There is a CAPTCHA at the end of the registration form, but it is one of the new ones which I believe is being tested out by Google. It only requires a checkbox.

There is already a step by

There is already a step by step guide on the new website. It is extremely detailed and guides you through every aspect of signing up, installation, learning to use Radegast, Second Life and everything inbetween.

Virtual Ability, a hub for those with accessibility needs in SL, even has dedicated people to work with you one-on-one. Just go to the Radegast website at the bottom of the article and click on the link that says Accessibility Guide.

Developer Listens to the Community

Yay, I'm glad you got it installed!

Yes, the developer is very attentative to Radegast users. That's one of the things I really like.

Radegast Training

Training is available for those who are interested in using Radegast. Remember that the training is done on a volunteer basis so it is important to schedule a time to work with someone at Virtual Ability via e-mail should you wish to pursue this option.

Second Life is highly complex so training is recommended.

A few questions

Is there a way to play this on other devices such as iOS or tvOS? Also, if you play on Mac or Windows, do you need any special VR equipment? Or will a headset work?

accessibility Guide

I don't see any link that says accessibility guide on radegast.life.
all I see is a download page and blog posts detailing changes in the latest releases.

in the game now`

hey guys... I just login and really lost, don't know what to do lol. I am on the virtual ability island and just teleport here and there, and enjoy some random streaming on a cafe :D
my biggest question is, could we enjoy the game as a sighted players do? , could we drive a car, and do a job and stuff like that?, radegast is more like a chat client for the game though to be honest but I donno :D
also if I could fishing, where do I start?.
I am useing windows anyways.

Meh!

I don't understand! Sounds a bit cult like to me! No matter though, I have a full and enriched first life, no need for a second life! LOL!

I'm Lost As Well

I'm lost as well, but really looking forward to giving this a chance. I wrote to the people at virtualability on Sunday, and still waiting for a reply. I have radegast installed and my account has been created. I've been to the island and have accomplished very little. It'll be interesting to see if I can get this working. I'll comment when I hear back from them.

Outdated Components?

I just attempted to install both the Mono Framework and then Radegast itself. I have 2 questions. First, must one create an account with Virtual Ability first prior to downloading everything? If so, the form seems a bit inaccessible with VO and the latest build of Chromevox Classic. Next, are these components outdated? I changed my security settings to allow them to open, but still they won't work even after attempting to download the correct version of Mono from within Radegast. Should I wait a bit longer?

Re: Outdated Components?

It is true that the Mac version of Radegast is older than the current release because it is still on the old site. The new version is being worked on by the developer. However, it should work. She says it i just flakey.

You don't have to have Radegast installed before you sign up on Virtual Ability's website. You can go get it after the fact.

I don't have any updates on when exactly the newest mac build will be available. The developer is a volunteer as well and she is donating her tie to assist the blind with virtual world access.

Answers

Yo don't need any special equipment to useRadegast. A headset is just fine.

There is a client for android but Virtual Ability does notoffer training for it. It is more of a chat client and nothing ese.

In answer to what you can o in SL: I was a reporter for a long time i SL, so yes you can hold a job in SL if you choose. You can not drive a car, but you can do a host of other things.

Whether or not you will enjoy it as much as a sighted person is soething I can't answer. I know I do. And the othr blind users seem to. But that will have to be something you decide for yourself as you learn and explore.

confused with registration

hi so I registered and got an account but when I was registering it said if you use a screen reader to get in contact with them to download a special emulator so I contacted them today but I haven't heard back yet can anyone help me

Registration

I have never heard of using an emulator for Second Life. You sure you registered at VirtualAbility.org? Radegast is all you will need.

The accessibility guide is there on the site. I wish I could tell you exactly where to go, but I honestly don't know the new site very well. It is there though.

To those going in world: Second Life is complex and you would probably benefit from some training. I suggest e-mailing Virtual Ability to schedule a time. Otherwise there is no garauntee someone will be there to help you.

hi sorry it said that I would

hi sorry it said that I would need a different view were in we need to interface it properly with my screen reader so I don't know what that meant it's on the registration page before you register it's probably the radikist thing but I just wasn't sure

hi OK so I just installed

hi OK so I just installed radikist and emailed to ask for a mentor so we will see what happens

This looks cool

Some months ago, someone else tried to get me into SL. I sent an email to the people at virtual ability, but never got anything back, might try to get in contact with them again. Thanks for reminding me of this

Hi

Hi. Virtual Ability tries to answer every e-mail so I would definitely try again! I'm sure your message got lost somehow.

Someone asked if there was an IOS or TVOS version of Second Life. The answer is: not tat I am aware of. It would be very difficult to do and while the makers of Second Life are working on a mobile friendly viewer, it is not and will not be accessible to the blind. Their viewer is all graphics based.

This sounds fun, but can't get it to run

Hi!
I thought I'd give this a go, and followed the installation instructions for Mac, and installed both X11 and the correct version of the mono framework, that was linked to on radegast.com.
But even after installing both items, radegast gives me an error message when I'm trying to open it, saying that mono framework needs to be installed before radegast can run. I get a cancel and a download button, both which just kick me out of the app.
Anyone have any ideas on what to try next?
And just to be clear, I downloaded the latest release of radegast available on radegast.com, which I believe is ver 2.18
Any help would be deeply apreciated! :)

Pocket Metaverse

The client featured in the subject box above, which use to be over at:

, sadly as of 2015 no longer exists on the app store, nor does its web site.
For its time, it was one of the "best" SL iOS clients for a blind user anywhere.

I myself do not know of any other blind-friendly mobile clients out there.

Desperately looking for help

I would love to get into SL. I have tried radegast but although I have managed to teleport have never actually chatted with anyone yet. I don't even know what I'm wearing! I think before you can buy stuff you have to actually pay in USD which I didn't want to do until I know SL will be for me. I too have received no reply from Virtual ability. Is there any way anyone on here could help possibly by setting up a beginners group or something similar? With thanks.

Virtual Ability

I am a Radegast mentor, Denis. I will be glad to help you.

You do not have to pay for anything in Second Life unless you want to. And if you were to buy something, say apair of shoes, you would use in game currency, known as the linden dollar.

Second Life is filled with free items and having in world currency is not necessary.

I would try e-mailing Virtual Ability again.

Re: This Looks Fun

Radegast.com is not the correct web address to get the Radegast software. You should be getting the mac version from radegast.org. It is not yet available on Radegast.life.

My mistake

You are of course completely right! I ment radegast.org, that was where I downloaded Radegast 2.18 for Mac from! I guess I must have written the last comment in a hurry, and mistakingly typed the wrong link! Haha!
But I downloaded of course from radegast.org, and it still wont work after installing all the other nesessary components first...

Oh lol. It happens!

Oh lol. It happens!

The mac issues have been reported to the developer and she is working on them. No word on when she will be publishing the fixed version on the radegast.life site.

need help

Hi, so I really want to try this game. I already downloaded x11, the monogram for the mac, and the Radegast application. I'm new to this, so I need help on what to do next. Do I need to download something else for this to work? thanks for any help

Registered on Virtual Ability's Website But...

I successfully registered for a Second Life account on Virtual Ability's site a couple days ago. I've been poking around the official site for SL, and it seems to be pretty accessible with VoiceOver. There seems to be some stuff that can actually be done via their site, but not everything. I still haven't gotten Radegast to work at all, but it seems like some of you have. I'm pasting the error I'm getting at the end of this reply. I'm honestly kinda bored and would like to do some role-playing, lol! Here's the error: osascript Cannot launch Radegast dialog Cannot launch Radegast Radegast requires Mono Framework version 2.10.9 build 12. Select Download to install this framework and then restart SpotEditor. Radegast requires Mono Framework version 2.10.9 build 12. Select Download to install this framework and then restart SpotEditor. This is immediately followed by a "Cancel" button and a "Download" button, respectively. Clicking on either of these does nothing, and I'm placed back in my Downloads folder.

Hi. I am going to give a copy

Hi. I am going to give a copy of your error to the developer. Maybe she will have some answers.

The Second Life website is actually pretty accessible. It's just that their viewer is not. Hence the continued development of Radegast.

It might be a good idea to go to the radegast.life site and contact the developer since you are all using Mac. I don't use Mac and have no experience with it.

Just Posted in the Forums

Hi. I just posted in the Radegast forums over at http://www.sluniverse.com , so hopefully I'll hear something back. It looks like the new developer of Radegast has been active? in there. For those unaware, an alternative way to get to these forums is by going to http://www.radegast.org . Near the bottom of the site are 2 forum links, and the one I'm talking about is "Radegast at SLU." The other forum link leads to one hosted on ProBoards, which doesn't appear to be active anymore. http://www.sluniverse.com/php/vb/alternative-sl-clients/81123-radegast.html