Igor Garmash: French teacher, musician, and journalist

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A teacher of French and English, journalist, musician, and video game enthusiast – he is essentially a one-man band. But how is this possible for someone who cannot see? Igor Garmash is an example of how a person can overcome difficulties and achieve success in various areas of life despite their limitations.

Igor, can you tell us where you studied, what specialty you received, and what you are doing now?

I studied at the Far Eastern State University in Khabarovsk, which is now a branch of the Pacific State University. I received a degree in linguistics, I applied there on general terms, although I had the benefits of a blind applicant, so by education, I am a linguist.

I enjoy teaching both children and adults. I tutor French and English, and I am passionate about music and games.

Were there any special approaches to your education at the university’s philology department? Could your teachers read Braille?

I did not experience any particular difficulties in the learning process. The teacher and I found suitable methods for me during the learning process. Some exams I took orally, some in writing, in short, the approach was individual.

Braille is needed for those who cannot see, for the blind person

As for Braille, it is now more necessary for those who cannot see, for the blind person, and university teachers did not know it.

Now, in teaching for the blind, many diverse educational technologies have appeared, accessible to those who are visually impaired or blind.

Igor, how long ago did this transition occur, and what was its cause?

This is primarily due to personal computers, not immediately, not instantaneously, but with their appearance, both work technologies and teaching methods began to change. The modern PC is adapted for such teaching, and with the advent of mobile devices, changes in teaching, for example, a foreign language, have accelerated.

The cause of the transition was also the technical means themselves, like tablets, but in my opinion, blind children would be more comfortable studying in a specialized school. I know that now they try to teach children in regular schools; I have encountered this, but I doubt whether regular school teachers can competently work with blind children.

Studying at university is a completely different matter; students are usually 17 or 18 years old, depending on the age at which they finished school. There is already a knowledge base on which other knowledge can be layered; many, if not all, already know how to work on a computer and have mastered Braille.

When you read books with your hands, impressions and sensations are recorded in the brain’s cortex.

They can already perceive audio materials, learn to work in specialized programs, and have developed what is called well-read and well-listened skills, the latter being extremely important. When you read books, whether with your eyes or hands, impressions and sensations from the read material, the spelling of words, orthography in general, and even grammar are recorded in the brain’s cortex.

How will a child in a regular school, where there are more than 30 students in a class, where teacher preparation for inclusion exists but the question of its sufficiency remains, manage all this? In such a case, it will be very difficult for a blind student because a teacher with not 10-15 but many more students will hardly be able to give much attention to such a student. It takes much more time for someone who cannot see or sees poorly to absorb the material.

The computer, tablet, and smartphone have changed the principles of communication and interaction for everyone, especially for those who cannot see. There are more opportunities now, but which one do you consider important?

I currently run a column dedicated to games, where I review new games and write about how and with what tools to make a particular game accessible to the blind and visually impaired. Despite the current accessibility of video games for the blind and the expansion of opportunities, there remains the problem of how game creators perceive the abilities of the blind.

Unfortunately, the creation of interfaces and game testing are often done by sighted people who frequently do not take into account recommendations from us, who are blind, but know what we need. This reminds me of museum plaques with Braille… but covered with glass, as sometimes happens with computer games. A good interface, but for us, the blind or visually impaired, was practically inaccessible at one time.

Try working and describing your experience for developers

The same applies to apps developed for learning foreign languages. Are all features accessible to us, the blind? Can anything be changed, or is there no one to take on this task? You need to check, and for that, install the app, try working with it, describe your experience, give recommendations, and send them to a resource that collects such suggestions.

One of the best resources for this, in my opinion, is AppleVis, which allows working with all devices: Apple – Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.

Does it turn out that all modern gadgets and their supporting programs need refinement?

Yes, exactly. It’s not just about studying, understanding, mastering, and explaining how and with what we can use, utilizing screen reading tools. Whether a particular site for learning a foreign language, mathematics, or physics, for example, is adapted for the blind on Windows or MacBook Air.

In general, adaptation is needed in everything, from educational programs and apps to video games. I must note that a lot has been done now, and a huge step in the adaptation of video games, in particular, has been made.

When was the first step taken? Can we pinpoint the exact date when video games became fully accessible to the blind?

The significant breakthrough in games occurred around 2019 when adaptations for the needs of the blind, such as world navigation and targeting in gameplay, became more common.

But how was this resolved before 2019? Surely, even before that year, those who could not see tried to play video games?

By auditory perception, that’s actually how I played for many years. We tried to devise solutions that were convenient for us, and as I mentioned earlier, we relied heavily on our hearing.

Before 2019, developers did not give much thought to how their programs, games, and apps would be perceived by the blind, and we also relied mainly on ourselves. Representatives of the online community, who tried to understand our problems, and modders, who I mentioned before, creating various modifications to games for the blind, played a significant role in this. A lot of interesting things have appeared now, and that’s good.

Igor, can you name some games adapted for the blind that have appeared since 2019?

Not long ago, in 2019, the game Forza Motorsport appeared—a racing simulator game that is very popular. There is the collectible card game Hearthstone, created for playing in the Warcraft universe.

Hearthstone is a great example of the complex and heavy, even titanic work of modders adapting games for people with inclusion in general and the blind in particular.

The extremely interesting game The Last of Us Part II, officially introduced in June 2020, became extremely popular among players. The updated version of The Last of Us Part II appeared in early 2024.

Another mention should go to Crusader King III—a real-time global strategy game or medieval ruler simulator, which is popular now. It is also adapted to what a blind person needs for a video game, and enthusiasts did this.

Today, it’s not easy to choose a game

In the last 5 years, the world of video games has taken a huge step forward so that those who are blind or have very poor vision can get the same experience as those who can see and do not belong to the world of inclusion. This is far from how I had to learn the world of video games, adapting what was available to me, creating crutches in the literal sense of the word. Today, I find it hard to make a choice when I want to play something.