1998 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article. 
Go to next article. 
Return to 1998 Conference Table of Contents 


Patrick Chassé,
Anne Jarry,
Philippe Mabilleau,
Judith Proulx,
Joëlle Carignan
1575 Chomedey Blvd.
Laval, Quebec
Canada H7V 2X2

Key words:

Tutorial, learning, multimedia teaching, Windows 95, graphic interface, visual impairment


TECSO Inc., in cooperation with the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), is the principal contractor for an applied research project, AuDidact. As part of this research project, TECSO designed, developed and assessed innovative training tools intended for people with visual impairments. These tools were designed to help blind and partially sighted individuals become familiar with and learn to use graphic interfaces, particularly Windows 95.

The interactive tools developed provide complete information in various modes: vocal, audio and tactile. This research has resulted in the development of a computer-based tutorial, entitled “Listening to Windows 95”, which is available on CD ROM, as well as a series of complementary training tools: a tactile guide illustrating the Windows screens in relief, a reference manual, and a three-dimensional training board.

The AuDidact project grew out of an earlier research project, PC-ACCESS (conducted by the “Technology and Society” team of the Centre for Information Technologies Innovation). The PC-ACCESS interface developed under that project included several modes: absolute mouse, metaphoric sounds, force feedback (resistance during the manipulation of the mouse) and synthesized speech. The results indicated that, although the mouse is slower to work with than the keyboard commands, those who use it develop a good mental image of the Windows environment (Martial, 1996, Ramstein, Mabilleau, 1996). These results also revealed that, even in the case of blind or partially sighted users, the direct manipulation of the mouse (namely, using the mouse) makes it easier to become familiar with graphic interfaces.


In the mid 1980s, the computer market had a profound impact on the lives of people with visual impairments, giving them access to information in a linear and textual environment, the DOS environment. Using a Braille reader or a speech synthesizer, and keyboard commands, people with visual impairments could access information without too much difficulty. At the end of the 1980s, graphic interfaces such as Windows invaded the market, making computers more user-friendly for the general public. However, the use of the mouse and images made it much more difficult for those who cannot see to access and become familiar with computers. Graphic elements such as icons, windows of various sizes, context-sensitive menus, and so on, make it much harder for blind individuals to develop a mental image of what is happening on the screen.

At present, there are no satisfactory training tools to help blind or partially sighted individuals develop a good mental image of the structure and the functions of interfaces such as Windows 95. This is the problem AuDidact focused on.

Research stages:

1) Identifying the needs

In order to analyze the needs of our clientele and to produce an Alpha version of the computer-based tutorial, we conducted focus groups with training consultants specialized in adapted technologies. Based on the information obtained from these groups, we drew up the following guidelines to be applied in the design of our tools.

2) Designing the training tools

Following our analysis of the needs specified, a certain number of conceptual options were retained for the design stage:

Unit on using the absolute mouse:

The software being used with the absolute mouse (WinGuide) is a complementary tool which enables both blind and partially sighted individuals to explore the Windows 95 interface with a mouse. This multimodal software supports synthesized speech, sounds and will eventually support force feedback. It involves superimposing one or more of these modes on the various graphic elements on the screen. These modes are available when the mouse pointer encounters the objects in question.

* This software fully supports Microsofts new accessibility technology, “Microsoft Active Accessibility”.

* As a result of its modular design, it can be easily adapted for new modes such as force feedback.

Both programs, the tutorial and WinGuide, are compatible with most screen readers.

3) Assessing the training tools

Through field testing both with blind and partially sighted individuals as well as with training consultants, we determined whether the tools developed truly satisfied the needs expressed.

Specifically, this experimentation was intended to determine how users and trainers felt with respect to using the training tools developed, to assess the users acquisition, and to collect comments and suggestions from both users and trainers so as to improve the tools.



The on-site evaluations made by the AuDidact team took two months and involved 13 blind or partially sighted users at three experimentation sites in Canada. At the same time, APH conducted a pilote testing with four American students. Each user involved in the testing had to complete the 12-hour training program in four half-day sessions. The users primary task was to go through the various units in the tutorial and, depending on his/her needs, locate the information required, using the various training tools provided.


The users were chosen in keeping with a predetermined profile in order to be representative of our potential clientele. Factors such as age, the degree of the visual impairment, occupation, computer knowledge, and the adapted equipment used were considered when selecting our sample.


During this assessment, we collected data on:



The results confirm the need to conduct tests involving users in the design of access and training programs such as those developed for this project.

The use of direct manipulation, combined with audio feedback and an adapted mouse, contributes significantly to the conceptualization of the elements which make up graphic interfaces. However, the use of keyboard commands is still the most effective way in which to exploit these interfaces, particularly for those clients who have no usable visual residue. The users we studied unanimously recommended the tutorial and would use this approach to learn other computer applications.

Go to previous article. 
Go to next article. 
Return to 1998 Conference Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings 

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.