Over the weekend I read two really interesting articles in the New York Times on disability topics. One was in a special report called Education Life, about a group of MIT students who created a video game for the blind. I had read about this game, called AudiOdyssey, when I was doing research a few weeks ago for a recent article. Most video games for the blind are designed just for the blind; AudiOdyssey is unique because it’s the first game that allows blind and seeing users to compete against each other equally, without giving the seeing person an advantage. Using music as its central theme, the game follows a disc jockey whose objective is to get people in his nightclub onto the dance floor by pumping out great music that players mimic by matching his beat. AudiOdyssey can be downloaded here and played on a keyboard or with a Wii remote.
The other story I read was in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, about the coming-of-age of service animals for the disabled. Everyone knows about seeing eye dogs for the blind, but foals (small horses), for example, are also being trained to guide blind people and are considered less aggressive. The article takes an interesting turn when the writer introduces several people with disabilities who own exotic pets, such as a man with bipolar disorder who uses a parrot to calm him down when he has an episode. The article suggests that some animal owners with disabilities are going too far in trying to get special privileges for their pets. I don’t believe that the ADA should be changed to allow all exotic animals like parrots and monkeys into restaurants and stores — it’s just too risky for the general population. But I do believe that there’s room to thoroughly train and certify certain species so that they can continue to provide benefits to the disabled.
1/7/09 update: The author of the NYT magazine story, Rebecca Skloot, has issued an update on the Department of Justice’s consideration of allowing animals other than dogs to be deemed ‘service animals.’ On her blog, Skloot writes that she received a leaked version of the DOJ ruling; it will ban all animals except dogs, though the regulation will include a special provision for miniature horses.