2002 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2002 Table of Contents


Jutta Treviranus
Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, University of Toronto

Libraries, schools, colleges, universities, government offices and Internet Cafes all provide access to computer workstations that are used by multiple users each with their own personal setup preferences or requirements. Depending on the technical support available, user's presently make do with the workstation default if they are able or a great deal of time and effort is spent adjusting the workstation to an approximation of their requirements. Many users with disabilities cannot use these workstations, even when they are "accessible" workstations, because the technology they need is not available or the technical support is not adequate to set it up the way they need it. In addition, institutions offering and maintaining public workstations are often reluctant to include assistive technologies in the setup because the technologies conflict with one another or with other software and hardware on the system. The ATRC in cooperation with a number of partners has developed and is refining a system whereby users can carry with them their desktop preferences (including system preferences, browser preferences and assistive technology preferences) and automatically configure public terminals to suit their preferences and access requirements.

Several standards or common specification efforts are underway to capture and communicate learner or user preferences for the desktop, applications and assistive technologies. The IMS Global Learning Project Accessibility Working Group is attempting to harmonize these schemas into a common specification that will form part of the IMS Learner Information Packaging or LIP specification.

The first implementation of such a specification is in a Canadian national project called Web4All. Web4All is a program developed by the ATRC that automatically configures public access terminals according to personal setup preferences (for the system, the browser and the assistive technology), as saved onto a smart card or other Open Card compliant device. The personal preferences are saved as an encrypted, compressed XML string and take up less than 2K. They are specified and saved onto the card using a personal preference wizard program. Once on the card, the user can take the card to any public access terminal with Web4All software, insert or swipe the card, and cause the system preferences, browser preferences and assistive technology preferences to be set exactly as they have specified. This is achieved through a software program called the Configurator. When the card is removed the workstation reverts back to the default and all assistive technologies are shut down to avoid conflict with other applications.

Version 1 of Web4All comes bundled with a base set of assistive technologies, these include IBM Homepage Reader, CAST E-Reader, a modified Logitech trackball, Opera, and the VDK Onscreen keyboard. The preference schema has two levels of preferences affecting the assistive technologies: general settings and specific settings. General settings are settings that are common to an entire class of assistive technologies (ie. Screen readers). The higher level classes presently include: screen readers, screen enhancement, mouse alternatives, and keyboard alternatives. Specific settings are settings unique to a single assistive technology within the class. The user is able to specify the assistive technology they prefer as well as acceptable alternatives if the preferred technology is not installed on the workstation. If none of the preferred technologies are present the system will resort to a technology in the same class.

For the second version of Web4All the ATRC plans to expand the assistive technology classes covered to encompass technologies such as voice recognition and refreshable Braille. An API will also be published to allow assistive technology developers to create Preference Wizard and Configurator modules for their assistive technologies.

In another implementation of the Personal Preference Specification the ATRC is investigating the implementation of the specification in personal web portal technologies. Thus the personal preference schema will be used to also configure the navigation tools, content organization, content presentation, personal bookmarks, and the content retrieval algorithm within a portal. This will be implemented using uPortal, an open source portal initiative and used in post-secondary and government portals.

The presentation will share the schema, the rationale behind the design and demonstrate its application. Input will be sought for schema modifications to insure that the broad range of user preferences are adequately captured.

With a common specification for user preference settings and a tool to implement those specifications in public workstations, any user should be able to step up to a public workstation and replicate the desktop they are used to. The implementations of this common specification will reduce the need for technical support and reduce software conflicts with assistive technologies. Most importantly they will provide a sustainable and realistic method of maintaining accessible public workstations in public institutions and businesses.

1. IMS Global Learning Consortium, http://www.imsproject.org.
2. Web4All Project, http://www.utoronto.ca/atrc/rd/smartcard/index.html.
3. Industry Canada, http://web-4-all.ca.
4. uPortal http://www.ja-sig.org/.

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2002 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

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