Monday 18 April 2011

Crossword Solving Tool for the Blind

Standard text-to-speech software applications can only do so much for the vision impaired when it comes to solving crosswords: they can read out clues and enumeration, they cannot simulate the interactive filling up of a grid. With Spoonbill Software's Blind Gamers Crossword Puzzle (called 'BG Crossword Puzzle' in short), interactive solving for the blind and partially sighted has become possible.

How BG Crossword Puzzle Works

spoonbillBG Crossword Puzzle uses Microsoft's text-to-speech function to communicate with the solver. The program is self-voicing, you do not need to use your screen reader with it. To start solving, a crossword in compatible format is loaded into the program; the supported formats are Across Lite, XWC (Crossword Compiler format), and Guardian's HTML (a demo of this below). Using keyboard controls, you can traverse the grid, get clues read out, enter answers and validate them against the solution, save partly or fully solved crosswords. Other highlights include an anagram unscrambler, handling of tentative answers, spelling out partly filled answers and navigation through filtered clues (e.g. crossing clues only, unsolved clues only).

Some features like a resizable grid, colour schemes and text in large legible font are provided especially for the partially sighted. A detailed tutorial comes packaged with the software.

There are still gaps between sighted and blind solving when it comes to the overall appearance of the grid rather than single word slots. These seem tricky to resolve and are not showstoppers, but are certainly worth thinking about - how can the tool best convey the grid's shape and symmetry? Can the tool enable the solver to spot a Nina? These details apart, BG Crossword Puzzle is a commendable initiative towards making crossword solving accessible and pleasant for people with vision impairment, who might not have been able to consider crosswords until now.

As per their help files, Spoonbill Software is working with the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) in the UK to get more websites to offer their crosswords in BG Crossword Puzzle-friendly format.

Case Study: Solving Guardian 25296 Crossword using BG Crossword Puzzle

An interesting feature of BG Crossword Puzzle is its compatibility with the Guardian interactive crossword's HTML code. You can take the source code of Guardian interactive crossword's page, save it as .txt in BG Crossword's designated folder "Crosswords\Guardian HTML", specify the software format as "Guardian HTML" and load it into BG Crossword Puzzle just like any .PUZ or .XWC file.

A sample run of Guardian 25296 (Araucaria):

The crossword on the Guardian's website looks as below. Right-click to view and save the source HTML.

Fig 1: Save page source of the Guardian interactive crossword

Move to BG Crossword's folder, change format to "Guardian HTML" and open the txt file. The crossword will open in interactive mode. The image below shows a partly-solved grid in word entry mode with Down display on.

Fig 2: Partly-solved grid in BG Crossword. Word entry mode for 1D (Down clue display)

Here is the corresponding audio clip of clue 1D being selected, word entry mode being invoked and the solver's answer being entered:

That was the voice of "Microsoft Sam", the default text-to-speech voice in Windows XP. Your computer might have more voice options installed ("Microsoft Mike" and "Microsoft Mary" are the other free voices for XP), which you could select through the Control Panel.

How to get your copy of BG Crossword Puzzle

The best part - Blind Gamers Crossword is freeware. You only need to send an email request to Spoonbill software with your full name and residence, in the format specified on the Blind Gamers website. The zipped installation pack is sent to you within four days.

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Samarth said...

Thanks for sharing the info. An admirable initiative indeed.

Anonymous said...

I see. When I stop seeing, I now know where to go. Thanks.