Alumni Volunteers at Maze Day 2016

July 2016

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Alexandra Bokinsy demos an app at Maze Day

As many of you know, each year the department hosts an extraordinary event called Maze Day. Maze Day is a special field trip for K-12 students with visual impairments, where they, along with their parents/guardians and teachers, get to experience a wide variety of educational games created just for them. For students who are often left out of school field trips and activities because they are not members of the sighted community, Maze Day provides a one-of-a-kind day of fun and learning.

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Rob Dallara helps a visually impaired student experience his demo while the student’s friends watch

This year, we were honored to have several alumni volunteer to help.
Rob Dallara (M.S. 2015), Patrick Waivers (B.S. 2013), and Alexandra Bokinsky (M.S. 1997, Ph.D. 2003), Aron Helser (B.A. 1994, M.S. 1998) and their children all volunteered by designing their own demos to show, helping lead groups, and preparing and serving lunch.

Rob Dallara began volunteering at Maze Day when he was a student and came back as an alumni volunteer this year. “I really wanted to volunteer for Maze Day again this year because I really enjoy working with the children who are visually impaired, who might not otherwise have the opportunity to play video games that others enjoy,” said Dallara. “I also still had some great ideas for other accessible video games that these kids could enjoy that I hadn’t yet created.” This year Dallara created an iPad game called Screen Splitter, where students tap different sections based on the ambient noise.

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Patrick Waivers looks on as a student plays the Funky Beats Touch Board

Patrick Waivers has previously volunteered at Maze Day with his company, but he volunteered this year on his own. Waivers said, “From a volunteering perspective, Maze Day is such a great event. It is both rewarding and lots of fun. The kids are genuinely happy to be there, and the students create some very interesting and original demos. It also gives me the opportunity to see and talk to my old professors and faculty at CS.” Waivers spent the day helping with food preparation and leading groups of students around the building.

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Aron Helser guides a masked student through the LEGO maze

Alexandra Bokinsky and Aron Helser had not heard of Maze Day before attending the department’s 50th Anniversary Celebration last year, but they were excited to get their whole family involved. “We thought that designing Maze Day games as a family would be a great way to continue teaching our kids about other kids who have challenges and to get them thinking about ways we can help — what can we as programmers do?  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. Their family provided three games, including a fairy android app, a LEGO maze with touch sensors and the Funky Beats Touch Board, where users created sounds by touching different shapes painted with electrically conductive paint.

This year’s Maze Day was made even more special by the alumni who volunteered their time to the make the day a-MAZE-ing! If you are interested in volunteering for the next Maze Day, we would love to have you. Please email er@cs.unc.edu to let us know if you would like to design a game or to help in another way.