Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Catering for the Disabled Surfer: A Case Study in Web Site Navigation for Disabled Students

Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Catering for the Disabled Surfer: A Case Study in Web Site Navigation for Disabled Students

Article excerpt


Since the computer as we know it was first developed, man has dreamt of systems that can be operated by voice command. Science fiction has portrayed a future where users communicate with computers by voice, and generations have grown up expecting a new dawn whereby we speak and the computer speaks back. The days of communicating naturally with computers by speech, however, are not so far off. Recent technological developments have led to a new way of thinking about how we should interact with computers in general, with the development of the XML specification and the use of XML to develop applications for many types of data. In particular, Voice XML and Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) ( are technologies that could revolutionise navigation of computer systems. Speech technology seems an ideal complement to web appliances. Advances in speech processing have already yielded for users a far more natural sounding voice reading web information. The incorporation of speech recognition can be an important source of user acceptance of any system. Teaching through the use of web pages has provided an alternative way of learning for many people including those who have a disability. A severely physically disabled student may find it advantageous to study at home, but if the principal teaching medium is the web and the student is unable to independently navigate the pages of the site, then a barrier to learning exists. The provision of services such as audio transcription may depend on the number of students who require the service, and providing 100 students per year with an audio recording of the same course does have advantage in scale compared to a situation where there are only a few students in a course.

This paper reviews the technologies currently available for speech interaction with computers and suggests how the future of web navigation may benefit from these technologies. The paper also discusses the results obtained from evaluation of a voice navigatable website aimed at disabled users.


Speech recognition is being used to give some severely disabled people a means of remote control of their environments--a way to choose independently among several activities such as watching television and listening to the radio. For people with physical disabilities affecting the use of their hands, productivity is far more personal. Speech recognition can enable some people to perform daily living tasks without assistance. For others, such as the growing number of professionals afflicted with Repetitive Stress Syndrome (RSI), speech recognition represents a means of getting or keeping employment.

Reasons that people with a disability use voice recognition include limited use of hands, difficulty with spelling, inability to touch type, and need of a fast way of working. Therefore a user needing to work "hands-free" will need a reliable method of controlling menus: a means of moving and clicking the mouse using voice commands and a correction mechanism that works completely by voice. Users with spelling difficulties need predictive correction, a text to speech feature to help with proofreading, and a facility to "play back" what was dictated (i.e. their voice). People who wish to speed up typing are likely to be most interested in speed of recognition and easy correction using the mouse.

Many visually impaired users are attracted to the idea of operating their computer by voice, necessitated either by keyboarding difficulties or lack of touch-typing proficiency. Voice in/Voice out is the use of a computer with voice recognition as a means of information input, combined with synthetic speech that enables the user to know what is on the computer screen. Many problems are inherent in using voice recognition with speech output. The main problems are:

* Hearing the words or phrases echoed back is often not enough for the user to be sure there are no errors in the recognition or formatting of the text. …

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