Introducing Glassbrick, Australia’s home-grown screen magnifier

Monday, 21 January 2013 12:04pm

Have you ever used a piece of technology and thought “I could make a better one of these”? Sierra Asher, a 27-year-old game designer from Brisbane, did just that. The end product is Glassbrick, a screen magnifier for Windows that can meet the demands of hardcore gamers.

Asher works for game design house Halfbrick Studios and is the sole artist behind the hugely popular Jetpack Joyride. He has impaired vision and is reliant on screen magnification software to use computers. A Mac user at home, Asher couldn’t find a screen magnifier for PCs that was up to the task.

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When Asher first started using PCs he used a hand-held vision aid called a binocular. This helped his vision but only left one hand free for using a mouse and typing. He got an Apple Mac and found the inbuilt Zoom tool made using a computer extremely easy. The trouble was he couldn’t find an equivalent tool for the PCs he used at work.

The latest versions of Microsoft Windows come with a Magnifier tool but it lacks the customisations that most users need. Commercial magnifiers are available but many are expensive and come with their own list of problems.

While he was thinking how the screen magnifier could be perfected, Asher was taking a leadership course. This gave him the courage to pitch the idea for his own magnifier to the team at Halfbrick.

“My main goal in designing Glassbrick was to make learning at schools more accessible because I know how hard it was for me,” said Asher, who used a hand-held binocular magnifier when he was growing up.

Although Halfbrick’s CEO was supportive, getting enough support from the team was a challenge. The current version of Glassbrick was built in just six days.

In many ways, Glassbrick is the equivalent of NVDA, the free screen reader developed by fellow Australians Mick Curran and Jamie Teh. Glassbrick is free, commercial-grade and not-for-profit. Like NVDA, it can be stored on a USB drive so users can carry their assistive technology around in their pocket.

The main advantages of Glassbrick lie in its lightness. It runs comfortably without slowing your system down, making it perfect for use with heavy-duty software such as games and design suites.

The main features include:

  • Full screen zooming
  • Customisable keyboard shortcuts
  • Adjustable mouse tracking speed
  • Four different colour modes, including inverse and grey scale
  • Mobility: Glassbrick can be stored on a USB and moved between computers.

With pressure coming from Apple to provide commercial-grade access features out of the box, Microsoft improved its Magnifier tool with the release of Windows 8 in October last year. Like Glassbrick, Magnifier for Windows 8 supports high contrast colour schemes. Unlike Glassbrick, Magnifier will launch as the computer starts up, making Windows 8 computers continually accessible.

With Halfbrick Studios dedicated to making games, Asher needs time to ensure that the product remains a viable competitor to the technology that comes as a default within devices. With no marketing budget, what Glassbrick needs is users. Asher wants as many people as possible to download the tool and join in the community of users so that he can keep his bosses convinced of the need for making assistive technology as widely available as possible.

Glassbrick is free to download from Glassbrick.org.


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