UNC CS hosts Maze Day 2016 for visually impaired children

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Sight-impaired children from all over the state had an opportunity to test computer applications at Maze Day 2016. Participants came to the Department of Computer Science in Sitterson Hall to experience research and play games created specifically for them by computer science students and alumni.

Now in its 12th year, Maze Day is the brainchild of Dr. Gary Bishop, a professor of computer science in the College of Arts and Sciences who focuses his research on developing software for people who are visually impaired. Each year, approximately 100 students visit the UNC Department of Computer Science for a day of fun, educational games and a life-sized maze that the students navigate using touch and sound.

Maze Day 2016 featured more than 25 demos, including the Funky Beats Touch Board, which let students create music by touching shapes painted using electrically conductive paint; Robbed At Sea: A Pirate Mystery, where students saved an innocent pirate accused of theft; and a NASCAR racing simulator.

Three of this year’s demos were provided by alumni Alexandra Bokinsky and Aron Helser and their children. After hearing about Maze Day last year, the couple saw an opportunity to teach their children about ways programmers can help others with unique challenges.

“Most everyone they know plays games on a tablet or smart phone and it was a real stretch to try to think of fun games we could make that would work for kids with visual impairments. It definitely made us all think differently about how we use and interact with the tablet,” Bokinsky said.

In addition to games, there were demonstrations of research and resources available to those with visual impairments. Kevin Currin, a visually impaired UNC student, was on hand to speak to participants and their parents about his experience as a college student.

Both the participants and the computer science students enjoy and benefit from Maze Day, said Bishop.

“There are hardly any field trips for blind children,” Bishop said. “They do get to go along with the rest of their class on field trips, but the experience is not designed for them the way that Maze Day is. It is also a win for the university students because they get to see how their computer skills can improve someone else’s life.”

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