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Developing Multi-modal Interfaces for Visually Impaired People to Access the Internet

This paper describes the work being carried out at the Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB) on improving visually impaired people’s access to information on the Internet. In particular, the project is focused on problems that visually impaired people have on navigating and reading information from Web pages.

These problems will be addressed by using a multi-modal approach of combining visual, audio and haptic technologies. The first prototype of these interfaces has been developed based on the results of the user requirements capture conducted with visually impaired people. This paper will present a review of the current technology to assist visually impaired people  to access the Internet and also the users’ comments on this technology. As a result of the user feedback, the paper will present a prototype multi-modal interface and discuss the issues that should be considered when designing such interfaces.


The Internet has become increasingly prominent due to the vast amounts of information and array of services that is available. However, its benefits to visually impaired people, especially blind people, are not as much as to sighted people. This is mainly due to two factors: (1) the poor accessibility of the Web content, and (2) the limitations of the currently existing assistive technology.

Most Web pages are graphically oriented with different combinations of fonts, colour, frames and tables which can cause severe difficulties for visually impaired users to access this information. Although the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provide information about how to make Web content accessible for disabled people, research has shown that they are insufficient to ensure Web pages to be truly accessible even though they have met the guidelines requirements.

Furthermore, in the in-depth testing of 100 websites, besides the automated testing, 50 blind and partially sighted people were asked to perform a series of tasks on the websites. In the results, the successful rate of blind people is only at 53% and the successful rate of partially sighted people is at 76%. In the test, 585 different problems were encountered by the participants. Only 55% of the problems are related to the checkpoints specified in the guidelines and the other 45% are not. This shows that the guidelines are insufficient to ensure Web pages to be really usable by visually impaired people. The good news from the study is that accessibility also means usability. A Website that is accessible is also usable.
Authors: Yu, W., McAllister, G., Murphy, E. and Kuber, R.
Source: Penn State

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