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IBM Home Page Reader: The Voice of the World Wide Web

Catherine Laws and Chieko Asakawa
cklaws@us.ibm.com 
and chie@trl.ibm.co.jp 
IBM Special Needs Systems
11400 Burnet Road
Austin, Texas 78758

Introduction

Web browser solutions for people who are blind suffer from a growing list of problems including the inability to easily obtain page layout information, difficulty navigating the grammatical and structural elements of a web page, synthesizer inaccuracies, the inability to accurately read tabular information, and limited document search capabilities (Vanderheiden, Chisholm, & Ewers, 1996). In the last year, the World Wide Web Consortium, as part of its Web Accessibility Initiative, has authored accessibility guidelines for user agents, which include screen readers and screen magnifiers working with web browsers as well as independent web browsers (Gunderson & Jacobs, 1998). These prioritized guidelines offer recommendations for browser implementations which significantly improve access to WWW documents.

This paper discusses how IBM Home Page Reader, a new web browser solution for blind users, implements some of these guidelines in its approach to address World Wide Web accessibility problems for blind users.

History

In 1996, blind people in Japan had only two sources of published information: Braille books and cassette tapes. With computer users able to get information easily and quickly from all over the world using the Internet and blind users unable to access the web easily, the information gap between sighted and blind users was becoming wider. When Japanese blind users did try to access the web in the DOS environment, the screen reading and navigation of hypertext links and two-dimensional information was difficult and incorrect (Asakawa & Itoh, 1997).

Since the IBM Screen Reader/2 product had been translated into Japanese, the IBM Tokoyo Research lab first tried to create a prototype system using SRD/2 to read Netscape Navigator web pages. However, this solution read only the text information displayed on the screen; it was unable to read and navigate tables, forms, long web pages, and frames. To address these problems, the research lab decided to develop a talking web browser solution for Japan that analyzed HTML tags rather than simply reading the screen. In October, 1997, the IBM Japan Entry Systems Business Unit (ESBU) announced IBM Home Page Reader as a Japanese consumer product for blind user access to the web. In 1998, the IBM Special Needs Systems organization in Austin, Texas, worked with IBM Japan to develop Home Page Reader as a U.S. English, IBM Independence Series product that offers blind users better access to the World Wide Web.

Overview

IBM Home Page Reader offers a number of features that enable it to provide better access for blind users to the World Wide Web:

Logical Numeric Keypad Layout

HPR uses a logical layout of the numeric keypad for its users to read and navigate web pages. Basic numeric keypad keys are assigned to read the previous, current, and next link (1, 2, and 3), page element (4, 5, and 6), and word or character (7, 8, and 9), to read the page (0) and to stop reading (Enter). Other basic keys provide access to a history list (Num Lock), online help (slash), a settings menu (asterisk), and bookmarks (minus). In settings mode, basic keys (2, 4, 6, and 8) are used to logically navigate and select settings in a non-visual menu system.

Extended HPR functions use the plus (+) key then a basic key that is usually related to the extended function. Extended numeric keypad keys are assigned to read the first or last link (+ then 1 or 3), page element (+ then 4 or 6), and word or character of an element (+ then 7 or 9). Other extended functions include reloading a web page (+ then Num Lock), getting keys help (+ then slash), adding or deleting bookmarks (+ then -), setting word/character reading mode (+ then 8), getting "where am I" information (+ then 5), opening a link (+ then 2), fast-forward page reading (+ then 0), getting a new URL or searching (+ then dot), and canceling a connection (+ then Enter).

Jump keys in Home Page Reader use the dot (.) key to provide additional navigation capabilities for tables (dot then Num Lock, slash, or *) , headers (dot then 1, 2, or 3), frames (dot then 0), paging up and down (dot then 4 or 6), and structures (dot then 7, 8, or 9). A structure can be a list, select menu, table row, form, or map. A page summary key (dot then 5) is also a jump key.

Functions for managing bookmarks require the user to hold down the bookmarks key (minus) and then press a basic key. Functions for history list navigation involve holding down the history list key (Num Lock) and then pressing a basic key.

Screen Reader compatibility

Since HPR requires a screen reader for access to some of its advance customization features, it provides some screen reader compatibility, such as the use of standard Windows controls. However, HPR must be silenced when using a screen reader and vice versa. The Ctrl+F12 key silences and reactivates HPR keys and functions. Unchecking a setting called "Active in the background" also enables HPR to coexist with a user's screen reader. The online help provides additional information that suggests how specific screen readers can coexist with HPR.

More Information

For more information about IBM Home Page Reader and other IBM Independence Series products, visit the IBM Special Needs web site at http://www.ibm.com/sns. In addition to the web site, you can obtain information about IBM SNS products by calling 1-800-IBM-CALL and through our dealers.

References

Asakawa, C. and Itoh, T. (1998). User interface of a Home Page Reader. Proceedings of the ASSETS '98 ACM Conference on Assistive Technologies, 1998-4.

Gunderson, J. and Jacobs, I. (1998, July 3). WAI accessibility guidelines: User agent. Working draft. [Online]. http://www.w3.org/TR/WD-WAI-USERAGENT/

Vanderheiden, G., Chisholm, W., and Ewers, N. (1996, March 27). Making screen readers work more effectively on the web. [Online]. http://trace.wisc.edu/docs/screen_readers/screen.htm


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