I had the opportunity to attend a presentation today by Louise Later, who demonstrated two scripted objects, still in development, designed to help people with limited or no vision enjoy Second Life. Given that many sighted people find Second Life challenging to use, one can only imagine the unique difficulties of using it without visual feedback!
The objects — your choice of mobility cane or guide dog — use repurposed sensor and warp scripts to let users navigate and learn about their Second Life surroundings without any visual feedback. The sensor script can scan the surroundings for objects and avatars and output their names into your chat history, where EVA (an SL-specific screen reader) will then read them aloud to you, allowing you to hear a list of everything around you. The warp script can move you to an object or person, or move you through a series of locations (e.g. orientation displays). It can also continuously follow another avatar, perfect for getting a tour of the world from a sighted friend!
Louise told us that a core team of seven programmers, many of them blind* themselves, have developed the scripts, supported by Virtual Ability. They’re looking for additional help (especially more scripters) so if you’re interested in volunteering a bit of your time to a worthwhile and rather interesting cause, send an IM to Louise Later in SL!
* Update 2008-09-07: Louise informs me that only one programmer is totally blind, while she herself is legally blind. But, almost everyone in the group is disabled in some way.
The cane and guide dog objects are available for free at Wheelies. Virtual Ability runs Virtual Ability island, a beautiful tropical island sim with a thorough SL orientation tutorial (with both written signs and audio information!), and the famous Heron Sanctuary.