Have you ever wondered what it’s like for a blind person to experience a movie, follow sports or play a video game? Thanks to the world of podcasts, specifically a program called Twenty Thousand Hertz which reveals the stories behind the world's most recognizable and interesting sounds, you are about to find out. In honor of October’s Blindness Awareness MonthTwenty Thousand Hertz recently released a three-part series celebrating the auditory experience of the blind community. Throughout the month of October, the leading podcast about sound has explored the extraordinary worlds of audio descriptions in film and TV, blind sports and most recently, blind gaming.

Dallas Taylor.
In the latest podcast to drop, "Video(less) Games," host Dallas Taylor speaks with blind gamers Steve Saylor and Connor Scott-Gardner about their positive and negative gaming experiences, the history of audio games, major advancements in accessibility, sonic recreations of dreams, and the universal, transformative possibilities of heightening one's hearing.

Taylor has some impressive credentials. In addition to being the host and creator of Twenty Thousand Hertz, he  is also the creative director of Defacto Sound, where he has led thousands of high-profile sound design projects—from blockbuster trailers and advertising campaigns, to major television series and Sundance award-winning films. Additionally, Taylor is a TED mainstage speaker, a regular contributor to major publications, and a respected thought leader on the narrative power of sound.

         Steve Saylor.

In talking with Steve Saylor—video game super fan, game consultant, and host of YouTube channel Blind Gamer—Taylor explains that roughly 7.5 million Americans have some form of visual impairment, but only 10 percent have no vision whatsoever. For Saylor, his condition, known as nystagmus, causes extreme blurriness in his vision. When sitting about a foot and a half away from his 50" TV, Saylor describes how he is able to see the screen, but not all of the information essential to the video game's experience. 

On the importance of audio cues and having the listen mode enabled, Saylor said, “That's the real magic of accessibility—the real beauty and genius of accessibility, is that when it's integrated like that, it just makes it so that it's still fun to play, and it's still challenging to play, but also is accessible to play.”

In consulting with game companies on blockbuster titles like Watch Dogs: Legion, Assassin's Creed Valhalla and The Last of Us Part II, he has helped implement innovative accessibility options, from enhanced sonic cues and descriptions to high-contrast modes and more. Saylor recently worked with Xbox on "Power Your Dreams," a project that turned his actual dreams into an audio art piece.

Connor Scott-Gardner.
Disability rights activist Connor Scott-Gardner is as big a gamer as Saylor, but his condition of Leber congenital amaurosis means he has been almost totally blind since birth. In order to play a video game, he needs to be able to access everything non-visually, so when he tried his first audio game it was a complete revelation. 

Dating back to the 1980s, audio games have their roots in "Text Adventure" games that were eventually integrated with text-to-speech engines. Modern audio games now include a huge variety of music, sound effects and dialogue, ranging from first-person shooters such as Shades of Doom to racing games like Top Speed, RPGs including Paladin of the Sky, as well as Scott-Gardner's own Beyond the Ice. These games build entire worlds and vivid environments from sound alone.

Taylor believes that since audio games typically don’t have any graphics, building a world from sound is crucial.

"Sounds are used in various different ways,” Scott-Gardner said. “So one way is for example, a character's footsteps. Depending on what surface your character is walking on, there may be different sounds. And this is very popular in audio games to have different sounds for like gravel or dirt, and then a very specific sound for a road. So your character would know when it's hit a road that it maybe wants to follow.”

For blind gamers, sound isn't just part of the game, it often is the game, according to Taylor. But even for sighted players, recent innovations like 3D audio have demonstrated the incredible power of harnessing a higher potential of sound, he said. "Just like immersive audio and stunning graphics, great accessibility options can help erase the borders of the screen, and put you in the world of a game,” Taylor said. "These settings might seem like they're just for a specific group of people, but the truth is that anyone can benefit from them."

Listen to the Blind Sports podcast.
Two more Blindness Awareness Month podcast episodes from Twenty Thousand Hertz, include "Blind Sports," illustrating how blind athletes rely on their ears to hit a pitch, and "Listening to the Movies," about audio descriptions for film and TV. See below for further descriptions and links to these two podcasts which dropped earlier this month. 

Playing a sport without sight might sound impossible. But it turns out, there are blind athletes all around the world doing exactly that. Instead of using their eyes, these players rely on their ears to hit a pitch, block a throw, and charge across a crowded field. Featuring beep baseball player Ethan Johnston and goalball coach Keith Young.

Tune in to the Listening to the Movies podcast.
When Matthew Shifrin was growing up, his blindness meant that trying to enjoy a movie or TV show was often a confusing and frustrating experience. But then, Matthew discovered something called video description—an extra audio track where a narrator describes the action on screen. And suddenly, everything changed. This story comes from the Radiotopia podcast Blind Guy Travels.