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Sonokids® Ballyland™

Young girl who is blind uses Ballyland to acquire keyboarding skills
Australia
Accessible Product

Category: Education, Assistive Technology,

Nomination Details

Organization name: Sonokids Australia

Launched Date: 2015-01-07

Who has created it: Phia Damsma

Problem statement and how the Accessible Innovation solves the problem.

Technology has the potential to be a great enabler for social inclusion of all children, regardless of a disability. Through technology, a child with a disability can potentially achieve great things. Sighted children generally acquire technology skills from a very young age, through experiential learning. As long as children who are blind or have low vision are provided with the right tools, resources and skills, they can become just as competent and proficient users of computers and other information technologies as their sighted peers.

The problem is however, that in general children with vision impairment encounter many barriers that keep them from learning digital skills. As a result of a lack of assistive technology and poor availability of accessible early learning resources, and often also as a result of a lack of awareness of their environment that they are capable of using technology, children with vision impairment have less early access to computer technology and technology teaching than they should, for equal opportunities.

Children who are blind ideally should acquire technology skills from an early age so that they can keep up with using technology in education. Lacking behind in these skills can result in them being further disadvantaged.

To solve this problem, Sonokids created Ballyland. Ballyland aims to make a difference in the lives of children who are blind or have low vision by helping them to acquire foundation digital skills from a very young age. Ballyland’s Inclusive Design uses technology to create an innovative concept, which uniquely enables very young children with vision impairment to learn foundation digital skills through hands-on, independent exploration, together with their sighted friends and siblings. Playing and learning together enhances mutual understanding and supports an inclusive community. Learning with Ballyland empowers children who are blind or have low vision, and gives them a head-start to digital literacy.

Tell us who is the target audience and how the accessible innovation will benefit them. Please specify the different target audiences groups and provide numbers and statistics of your current clients as well as what is the potential number of people that the innovation can impact and empower:

Ballyland has proven to be attractive to all children, regardless of a disability. However, the target audience for which it is particularly designed are children who are blind or have low vision, and who are novice users of technology. The design framework and special accessibility features specifically support their learning of essential technology and conceptual skills. Ballyland’s design results in a safe eLearning environment which also supports children with vision impairment who have additional disabilities to be included in play and learning of digital skills.

Numbers:

According to the website of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI), http://www.icevi.org/about.htm: There are 161 million persons who live with a disabling visual impairment, of whom 37 million are blind and 124 million are with low vision:

  • At least 6 million of them are preschool and school age children
  • 80% live in developing countries
  • Less than 10% of these children are receiving education
  • The girl child with visual impairment receives less attention and is doubly discriminated against
  • Almost none of the growing number of visually impaired children with additional disabilities receives any educational services.

There is no official figure but it is estimated that there are around four and a half thousand Australian children under the age of 17 with low vision or blindness. According to the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI), in the USA there are 94,000 visually impaired school-aged children, over half of whom have additional disabilities. All of these children with vision impairment, including those with additional disabilities, can potentially benefit from Ballyland.

Ballyland is used globally, in schools and organisations for the blind, as well as by individual children at home. Reaching out to children, Ballyland has also been successfully introduced through free workshops to students of schools and organisations for the blind in Nepal (Kathmandu, Simikot), India (Kolkata and Meghalaya region), and the Pacific Islands (Samoa, Tonga and Palao). Ballyland has the potential to touch many more lives, and empower many more children who are blind or have low vision around the world.

How is the accessible innovative solution different from current practices or ways of solving the problem?

Ballyland software is the first in the world to be designed to specifically support the development of early digital skills in very young children who are blind, and to enable them to play and learn jointly with children with and without a disability. No other educational software is available that enables experiential technology learning by such young children with vision impairment: discovering new things and learning important skills by doing, just like sighted children do.

A handful of accessible touch typing courses exist for children who are blind, but these are not targeting early learning, or the building of concepts and basic understanding of computer interaction. Ballyland is designed to precede existing touch typing programs.

Ballyland is different and innovative because:

  • Accessibility and usability for children with vision impairment are at its core
  • The design is “inclusive”, appealing also to children who don’t have a vision impairment
  • The design supports the development of digital skills by very young children who are blind or have low vision in a playful way
  • Ballyland does not require any previous experience with technology or computers
  • Ballyland supports the learning of foundation skills on which future formal assistive technology skills can be built, but it does not require the use of assistive technology
  • Ballyland does not require internet connection
  • Ballyland does not require literacy skills. Because it is audio-based, and all game clues are audio-based, supported by images and songs and stories, children from a non-English background, children with dyslexia and intellectual disabilities benefit from it as well
  • Ballyland does not use a synthetic voice, only real human voices
  • During the design and development stages there is strong involvement of children and adults with vision impairment, and they also contribute as voice actors
  • Ballyland provides a safe platform for young children with vision impairment to learn and practice digital skills without unexpected and unwanted results nor the need for adult supervision
  • Ballyland puts the child in control of the learning process
  • Ballyland’s unique concept presents the Ballylanders (five different types of balls), who live in a basket in a fun, audio-based world full of sound effects, real voices, songs and stories. The storylines, sounds and original songs are meaningful so that young children who are blind can easily identify them, and they relate to real life situations and play objects (balls)
  • Ballyland is perfect for use in an integrated, inclusive learning setting
  • Ballyland can assist children in their learning even if they have no or little access to support teachers because they live in rural or remote areas
  • Ballyland overcomes disability, language and cultural barriers

How is the accessible innovative solution new, different or unique in terms of the technology or implementation?

Ballyland uses innovative accessible technology solutions and programming to create a safe, accessible virtual environment for the child to explore, in which unexperienced interaction does not lead to unwanted responses from the technology device. Unique application of technology and programming can be seen in Ballyland’s “Any Key Goes” software for PC and Mac computers with a QWERTY keyboard: Pressing a key results in a sound, a story or a song (with images and animations). All gameplay has been designed to support a child who is blind to build up a mental overview of the keyboard one key at a time (‘mapping’).

An innovative approach to support the development of digital skills for future use of assistive technology by the child with vision impairment is that Ballyland implements what is called “self-voicing”: a real voice guides the child through, and provides spoken instructions, encouragement and feedback. Ballyland does not itself require the use of assistive technology (to which young children who are blind often do not have access).

More special features of Ballyland:

  • Strong involvement of children and adults with vision impairment during the complete design and development process
  • Adjustable settings to suit children’s individual needs (colour contrast, response time)
  • All Settings menus and full navigation accessible for teachers/parents who are blind

How do you get the innovative solution to reach the target audience? Please elaborate on the your go to market strategy and which geographies do you currently work in and what are your future plans for marketing your innovation.

Ballyland is created in Australia and is widely used around the country, but also in many countries abroad. Marketing efforts:

  • Workshops for specialist teachers (Vision Impairment), for departments of education, and at schools for special education
  • Presentations at (inter)national conferences for teachers and parents of children with vision impairment as well as at other special events
  • Interviews on radio, including radio stations for the print handicapped
  • Social media and Ballyland website http://ballyland.com, including Ballyland Newsletter for subscribers
  • Mailing lists, websites and newsletters for teachers and parents of children with vision impairment

Winning a Global Elevate Award would be an incredible support for Ballyland to ensure that as many children as possible can benefit from this unique software.

What is the potential impact of the innovative solution on the lives of the target audience? Please elaborate by providing statistics of the current impact and the potential impact.

Ballyland has demonstrated to support children with vision impairment to acquire foundation digital skills from an early age, on which later formal skills can be built. It helps to build children’s self-esteem and it empowers them. Ballyland has a track record of proven success also with children who have additional of other disabilities, such as learning disabilities, dyslexia, speech impairment, and intellectual disabilities.

Ballyland gives children a head start to digital literacy and enables them to be included in today’s technology focussed society. Digital skills are essential in education and for future job opportunities (in Australia, the US and the UK, unemployment rates are much higher under young people who are blind or have low vision than in the general public). Starting off with Ballyland, moving through the range of software, then going on to more formal education, a child increases his or her chances to reach his or her full potential. Finally, as the children’s self-confidence grows, this also positively impacts on their family and friends and classmates. They can demonstrate their ability to use a computer, without being disadvantaged by their disability.

Stories of how the Innovation has touched lives.

Ballyland’s Any Key Goes enables a young child who is blind or has low vision to play independently for a period of time, and to safely explore the computer keyboard. The inclusive design helps young children with general learning disabilities also interact more effectively with the computer. In one school, a young girl with additional disabilities can play independently with Ballyland, staying engaged with the program for extended periods of time. She has an apparent preference for specific sounds and clearly demonstrates that she remembers the location of the keys with which she can produce these sounds. Her verbal communication is limited but she communicates with her teacher that she wants Ballyland by singing the tune. Because of its high level accessibility and usability, Ballyland enables her to showcase her abilities, instead of being restricted by her disabilities. Sometimes people around children with disabilities may underestimate what they are capable of. Achieving success with Ballyland can have a positive impact on the children’s further education and opportunities.

“I have found two keys that make the same sound!” When the young girl who is blind heard the excited voice of her friend, who does not have a vision impairment, she immediately started to explore her own keyboard to discover the same keys. They were both playing Ballyland’s Any Key Goes, each on their own laptop, sitting in the same room, at the same table. What they discovered was that some keys are duplicated on a keyboard, such as the Shift and Ctrl keys. If keys have the same formal function, they will have the same sound in Ballyland. This is a great example of how Inclusive Design benefits social interaction, and results in children’s playing together, and learning essential digital skills together.

Links to a few videos about the innovation: