Crosswords for the blind. No, really!

I was pretty psyched when I learned that Google is getting closed captioning incorporated into more YouTube videos, making YouTube more accessible to the deaf and hearing-impaired. I’m delighted to know that there’s now software that reads crossword clues and entries aloud so solvers who are blind or have low vision can enjoy doing crosswords, too.

Spoonbill Software has just released Blind Gamers Crossword Puzzle 1.0, a freeware Windows application that lets solvers open crosswords they’ve downloaded from the Internet (provided the file format is the right one) and hear the clues without using their screen reader. Solvers use the keyboard to communicate with the program. Visit the link to order a copy.

Click below to read more about the program and—this part is key—about getting crossword publishers to provide download links for puzzles in the appropriate file format.

An Australian named Ian Humphreys developed the software in collaboration with the Royal National Institute for the Blind in the UK. Eric Westbrook is a blind member of the RNIB, a crossword setter and solver, and a consultant on BG Crossword Puzzle.

Eric writes:

I have also written a series of tutorials so that a blind solver can get solving quickly with the basic keyboard operations and then gradually introducing more advanced features whilst practising the newly learnt concepts and skills. There is an extensive Help File. There is also an introduction to cryptic crosswords so that a blind person could start from scratch.

I would like a blind solver to be able to access crosswords in the same way that sighted solvers do. Many newspaper and crossword websites offer their crosswords freely for online use (advertising revenues) and some by download. In the main this excludes blind and partially sighted solvers. If such websites provided download buttons with appropriate file formats, a blind solver could then download into Ian’s program and get solving – the same puzzles that everyone else is tearing their hair out over, on the same day. The puzzles are then ‘live’ and the blind solver feels part of the crossword community again. Wouldn’t that be terrific?

I can take ‘your’ NYT crosswords for example from Crossword Compiler and export them to the blind program very simply. From then on a blind solver can operate quite independently. I think many of your US compilers use this program, so possible links would be easy.

There is a significant number of blind solvers in the US and of course across the world. Furthermore, taking a lead in this area would produce a considerable feeling of warmth for such a newspaper and that is very good for business.

If you’re a crossword publisher (and not just in print media—I’m thinking here of constructors like Brendan Quigley, Matt Gaffney, and Ben Tausig who send out .puz files or or post them online), it would be fantastic if you’d take the step of making sure your crosswords are accessible to blind and visually impaired solvers.

The Spoonbill Software page also tells you about the other Blind Gamers games. Boggle! Sudoku! Solitaire! Chess! Uno! Yahtzee! Card games! If you or someone you know would get a kick out of these, please do pass along the info.

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7 Responses to Crosswords for the blind. No, really!

  1. Michael says:

    Sounds like the program just reads aloud a list of clues. Great innovation for those who have limited vision, but unfortunately the program does nothing to convey such intangible visual qualities as grid symmetry, openness, etc. to the blind solvers.

  2. I can verify the independence factor of blind individuals who have the proper software. When I worked at the US Department of Education, all our public documents posted to the Web were presented in a Section 508-compliant format (probably relating to a section of the Americans with Disabilities Act, though I’m not absolutely sure). Practically, this meant that the document could be easily and audibly read by special software for vision-impaired individuals. When my office decided to publish an internal performance and financial metrics dashboard to Section 508 standards for Department staff, we received a hearty thanks from a vision-impaired Department employee literally within hours of its first publication. She may not have “looked” at the document the same way, but she easily navigated an unfamiliar structure with a great deal of independence.

  3. Alex says:

    I don’t understand. If it’s easy to convert .puz files into the appropriate file format for the software, why doesn’t the software simply read .puz files?

  4. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Alex, maybe I should put you in touch with Ian or Eric. You know way more about futzing with puzzle formats than nearly anyone else.

  5. D_Blackwell says:

    “I don’t understand. If it’s easy to convert .puz files into the appropriate file format for the software, why doesn’t the software simply read .puz files?”

    It does. They just need to be downloaded into the Across Lite Binary Directory.

  6. Alex says:

    So there’s no need for publishers to make their puzzles available in the special format, then?

  7. Jim says:

    Hi Amy,

    I couldn’t find your email address anywhere on the website, but wanted to mention this to you in case you wanted to put it up for the audience at large.

    Just found out about this:

    It is the first annual Pittsburgh crossword tournament–and it will benefit a good cause.

    I’m a huge fan, by the way, and have learned so very much from the site!



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