Flying Blind: Taking Flight Simulation To A New Level In Accessibility

Demonstration of the PMDG 737 being controlled by a blind user using Talking Flight Monitor

Software developers [Andy Borka] and [Jason Fayre] have a love for aviation. They are also both totally blind. They’ve developed software called Talking Flight Monitor, and it has made flight simulation possible for anyone with impaired vision or blindness, as you can experience in the blurry video below the break. What draws them to aviation and flight simulators?

This fascination with flight is not limited to the sighted, and who wouldn’t want to experience what it’s like to be in cockpit of a modern airliner? I still recall the awe that I felt when at 9 years old, I glanced the flight deck of a McDonnell Douglas MD-80 as I boarded the aircraft. The array of lights, buttons, switches, and gauges dazzled me for years to come. I wanted to know how all of it worked. I wanted to be a pilot. A few years later I discovered Flight Simulator 4 on a 286, and I was hooked for life.

For the vision impaired this presents a problem. Flight simulators are by nature extremely visual, and they lack the text based interface that would allow a screen reader to help a visually impaired person make use of the simulator. Enter Talking Flight Monitor.

[Andy] and [Jason] have worked with PMDG Simulations to create text friendly interfaces for the 737 and 777 produced by PMDG. These ultra-realistic aircraft are available for the Prepar3D flight Simulator, and they result in a combination that blurs the line between Flight Simulator and Flight Training. By modifying these aircraft with accessible control panels, Talking Flight Monitor allows a completely blind flight simulator user to take off, navigate, and even land without ever seeing the screen.

Talking Flight Monitor makes flight possible using over 70 keyboard shortcuts. Both autopilot control and full manual control of the aircraft simulation are possible. Compatibility with standard simulation software is maintained in such a way that tutorials for programming flight computers not controlled by Talking Flight Monitor will still work. It even includes its own voice, so it does not require a screen reader to use.

Our hats are off to [Andy] and [Jason] for their hard work, diligence, and true application of the Hacker spirit. Thanks to [Mike Stone] for this most excellent tip.

[Note: The images in this post are produced by a community of blind flight simulator users who are not concerned with visual quality. They have been intentionally left blurry.]

14 thoughts on “Flying Blind: Taking Flight Simulation To A New Level In Accessibility

  1. Erm… not that familiar with piloting, so forgive the stupid questions…
    they can land a plane, blind? I presume that’s like an instrument landing, which is pretty difficult? Are these techniques for talking interfaces viable for real planes, or just simulators? Could we be using blind pilots in low visibility conditions?

    1. These guys are mostly controlling the autopilot. But that’s pretty much how modern airliners fly. Could we use blind pilots in real life? I’d say no, there is too much at stake. But this is for fun, and these guys *are* having fun.

    2. I’m pretty sure a blind person could fly a modified aircraft in the air just as well as a sighted person, the difficulty would come where it comes with interacting with the ground: taxiing to and from the runways, aligning the aircraft with the runway on both takeoff and landing.

  2. This is Jason Fayre, one of the developers of Talking Flight Monitor. I had no idea this article was coming, so very cool! People are correct in that we’re mainly controlling the aircraft flight management computer and autopilot. Although I would love to see technology like this in modern aircraft, I agree that it is pretty much completely unlikely.

  3. This is the other developer for Talking flight monitor. GA aircraft in the real world are most likely impossible. On the other hand, [in theory], anything from a 2-seater jet to a 789 or A388 is possible once the aircraft is lined up on the runway. The co-pilot would need to take care of taxi procedures and breaking as to not over run the desired taxi exitway.

    1. I can just see my future A388 pilot being led into the cockpit by his/her guide dog!
      (Before clicking Post Comment, I do not intend this to be insulting, just that my jaw will surely drop the first time it happens!)

  4. > Self driving cars are entering actual use to ferry elderly to appointments in San Francisco, CA. You drive or fly to look around or get somewhere. Certain airports could taxi-overide for the blind if the runways didn’t have sensors like a few cars now have. It is not undoable, by any means. And the newest fighter plane totally self-lands on a carrier. The catapult is mag-lev, too.

    There are Whys, but don’t ask. Ask rather, Why the Heck not?!? 6 million dollar man. Why not a self-flying/landing plane? Just money – And a few crashes along the way. Normal NASA stuff. We sighteds crash cars every day. Certainly the blind deserve a chance to crash a few, too. The parts are already on someone’s shelf. But automatics come at a cost. You’ll need the bigger engine option.

    Glad to have you here, Jason. My best pal’s older bro works or worked on Mars Virtual Presence. He holds a near-antique patent for glasses to help the unsighted. They’ve come a long way. Maybe your cane gets programmed for your trip at home and it goes into a socket, your cane is the personalized joystick-key. Crazy brainstorming is step one. You already past are way half way there. Don’t stop now.

    Document everything. Start a series of go-fund-me’s and get silly-com advisors and a patent lawyer. Don’t be surprized if the gov’t steals it all for national security and hushes you up, broke, hiding your patent with 5000.others each year. So have a, secret out-of-country equivalent, maybe in Switzerland. Maybe incorporate there, as well.

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