Archive for the ‘Assistive Technology’ Category

Readable Tool Better Than One David Pogue Says Is Best Tech Idea Of 09

2010/01/05

Readability is a free Web-browser bookmarklet that strips all distractions from Web pages. David Pogue, the personal-technology columnist for The New York Times, called it the “… single best tech idea of 2009 …” and a “… real life-changer …”.

Pogue, D. (2009-12-31). The Pogie Awards for the Year’s Best Tech Ideas. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/technology/personaltech/31pogue.html?_r=1

It is indeed a promising tool.  Yet, as I pointed out in my review of Readability, it has a significant problem. For many Web pages I tested, it could not determine which was the main text content, or it displayed only a snippet of it.

Readable (created by Gabriel Coarna)

Readable, also a free Web-browser bookmarklet, includes the same configuration features, has more of them, and has a feature that solves Readability’s problem.  If Readable can not determine a page’s main text content, it enables users to identify the text they want to read.  A user holds down the Control (Ctrl) key, selects the text with the mouse, and clicks it.  Readable then shows that text free of extraneous content. (Instructions are on the “Tutorial” page.)

Readable can be used with Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera and Internet Explorer.

Notes

Free Tool Matching People with CD to Computer Technology: A Review

2009/12/30

TechMatch is a free, Web-based assessment tool that matches people with cognitive disabilities to computer technology. It was produced by Personal Technologies, LLC, apparently also known as Life Technologies, LLC.  This is the same company that makes CogLink, e-mail software for people with cognitive disabilities, which I previously reviewed.

Accessibility

The TechMatch Web site does not meet accessibility standards, as is indicated by many images with missing alternative text.  Its tool, an assessment questionnaire, is not designed to be used directly by people with cognitive disabilities.  Instead, it is intended to be used by the people who care for and about them.

Purpose

The company promotes TechMatch as offering “…clear and straight forward advice about the strengths and weaknesses of each potential technology…”.   It says its tool, which is a questionnaire, assesses factors of six areas affecting successful computer use by people with cognitive disabilities.  (The tool lists actually only five areas of questions.)  When completed, it produces a summary of the advantages and the disadvantages of each computer technology for the person being assessed.

Questionnaire

To access the questionnaire, the TechMatch Web site requires visitors to create a user name and a password.  It also requests personal information, i.e, first name, last name, postal code and the visitor’s role in relation to the person being assessed. Upon submitting the information, a verification link is sent to the e-mail address used.  No explanation is provided on the log-in form about why the questionnaire can not be completed anonymously.

There are 34 multiple-choice questions.  The following are descriptions of the sets of questions.  They ask about:

  1. electronic devices and computer technologies the person uses; the difficulties experienced; and the related activities in which the person does and wants to engage.  There are also questions about Internet use.
  2. the types of environments in which the person visits and lives; the level of comfort using computer technology; and the type of related support available to the person.
  3. eye and hand coordination and use; the ability to carry and to use objects; and reading ability.
  4. the person’s ability to plan; to learn; to follow instructions; to concentrate; to remember secret names and passwords; and to protect computers from accidental damage.
  5. the person’s financial capability to buy computer technology; attitude for and motivation for new challenges; and general feeling about change.

Product

The end result was a report of suggestions for generic computing technologies: netbook, laptop, desktop, cell phone and public computing.  The remaining item on the list was Pack Drive, the company’s own product.  It is a USB Flash drive containing Internet applications designed for people with cognitive disabilities.

Personal Info Unnecessarily Requested

An option is provided to print a comprehensive report.  Choosing it produces a form.  The evaluator’s contact information is requested, along with personal information about the person being evaluated.  This includes age, date of birth and medical diagnosis.  On the form, there is a statement that the information is for inclusion on the printed report only, and will not be saved in any way.  To me, it is too risky and unnecessary to provide such information simply to obtain a comprehensive report.

Conclusion

The privacy problems are concerning.  The site has no standard privacy statement.  On its sign-up form, there is not even a simple statement that the entered e-mail address will not be sold or used for marketing purposes.

TechMatch’s goal for its assessment tool is admirable and shows promise.  It may be useful for those who do not know much about computer technology.  Yet its table of computer technologies lists only six generic options.  From this, I suspect no others are suggested by any of TechMatch’s reports. That there are so few, and that they are so similar, seems to me to be a distinction without much of a difference.

I had expected reports would choose from a database of devices and software that were related to computer- and assistive technology.  These databases, e.g., AbleData, already exist.  Had the assessment been tied to such a database, it and the effort to complete it certainly would have been more useful.

Notes

  • TechMatch development was funded through NIDRR grant #H133S070096.
  • No endorsement of TechMatch, Pack Drive, their manufacturer, or any of its products is intended or implied.

Free Talking Firefox Extension for People with Cognitive Disabilities

2009/12/28

CLiCk, Speak, created by Charles L. Chen, is an open-source, free extension for Firefox that reads Web pages out loud in a voice.  It is designed for sighted users with cognitive disabilities.

Interface

The image below shows CLiCk, Speak’s interface.  It is a toolbar with three, simple buttons for “Speak Selection”, “Auto Reading” and “Stop Speaking”.  Each has an accompanying image that can be enlarged and uses contextually-relevant colors.

Firefox toolbar of 3 buttons, each with a text label and image

CLiCk, Speak is mouse-driven. Web page text can be selected by clicking and dragging, then read out loud via a click to the “Speak Selection” button.  The “Auto Reading” button starts narration from the top of the page.  Each sentence is highlighted as it is read.

It does not identify elements or announce events, which Mr. Chen says is “… very annoying to sighted users,” but which would be important for people with visual disabilities.  This means fewer distractions from the primary, textual content.

Compatibility

CLiCk, Speak is compatible with Windows, Macintosh, and Linux; and has multilingual support.  Design information and source code are available for developers.

At the time of this writing, CliCk, Speak was last updated June 18, 2008.  It is compatible with Firefox 3.x.

Note: No endorsement of CliCk, Speak is intended or implied.

Web Browser for People with Intellectual Disabilities

2009/12/22

Web Trek is a Web browser designed specifically for people with intellectual disabilities. Based upon research (more info below), it is sold by AbleLink Technologies as part of two software suites for $199 and $399.  The following image shows screen shots of Web Trek in the background, and its associated “Visual Search Site” in the foreground.

screen shots of browser & search site, showing picture-based interfaces

Highlights Of WebTrek’s Features

  • built-in screen reader that narrates Web-page text aloud in a voice;
  • facility to use a picture from a Web page as an oversize favorites button on the user’s home screen;
  • a single-click interface for buttons on the home screen; and
  • access to the “Visual Search Site” (link to screen shots), a picture-based, Web search engine.

WebTrek’s Prototype Features

The prototype included the following features.  The AbleLink Technologies Web site does not mention them, so I do not know if they are present in the current product.  I hope they are.

  • an audio prompt-description of a button when the cursor hovers over it; (This was set up to be similar to balloon help.)
  • an audio prompt following a user-initiated event, such as a click, to guide the user through the next most-likely step in a task; (This was designed to minimize errors.)
  • a minimum of buttons displayed, and only when the current task requires them; (An attempt to reduce clutter / distractions.) and
  • the user’s name displayed on the start button and on the start page.  (Personalization is its goal.)

Grant- & Pilot Study

The prototype was developed starting in 1999 with a grant from The U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).  On the AbleLink Technologies site are a summary of the grant and the pilot study’s detailed description in an image-based, non-accessible PDF.

Notes

Readability: Free Tool Strips All Distractions From Web Pages

2009/12/18

People with intellectual disabilities can be overwhelmed by Web pages cluttered with numerous links, images, advertisements, etc.  Faced with such interfaces, they can not complete core tasks such as finding the information they need or making a purchase.  (See bottom of this post for a couple examples.)

I recently found a free tool, called “Readability“, that is a Web browser bookmarklet. It strips all distractions from Web pages, and attempts to show only the primary text content.  Before a user adds it to the Web browser’s toolbar, it can be set to show text in one of four styles, a font size can be chosen, and the width of left- and right margins can be selected.

Example Transformation

A Wikipedia page about bananas, an image of which is below, has columns of links, images, tables and other non-text elements.

Wikipedia page with columns of links, images & tables

Clicking the Readability bookmarklet strips all elements from the page except for its central text.  The image below shows the same page, but it displays only the main, single column of text.

Wikipedia page showing only a central column of text

That is a great result.  Unfortunately, on numerous other sites I tried, all those of online newspapers, the results were poor.  Either Readability could not determine which was the main text content, or it displayed only a snippet of it.  Readability has promise, however, as is demonstrated with the example above.

Readability’s utility gives me an idea for the future Clear Helper Web site.  Perhaps I can enable users to switch between two interfaces: one with main content only, and one with extra elements.  More on this will be the subject of a future blog post.

Note: A description and a video-demonstration of Readability can be found on the Arc90 Lab Experiment Web site.

Previous, Related Blog Posts

CogLink E-Mail for People with Intellectual Disabilities: A Review

2009/12/17

Coglink is e-mail software designed for use by people with intellectual disabilities.  This is a review of it.

Costs

I purchased CogLink for $49.   At the time of this writing, this is a one-time cost. There are no continuing subscription fees.  This is surprising given that a great feature of this product is toll-free, live technical support from 9 AM – 5 PM (PST).  My understanding from a conversation I had with a CogLink staff member is that the project is currently grant-funded.  This helps explain why the live technical support does not have to be funded by subscription costs.

Management

Coglink is intended to be managed by a “Helper” who installs it and provides at least some initial help through its training and use.  Helpers may log-in to a Web site to enable and to disable CogLink’s advanced features, and to set up the people, called “Buddies”, with whom its user will communicate by e-mail.  Statistics are presented on the last time the e-mail software was used and the last time an e-mail message was sent.  There is an option to receive monthly usage reports.

Interface

Coglink’s interface is clean and simple.  A text instruction always appears at the top and a list of “buddies” is always on the left.  Contextually-relevant buttons are located at the bottom. The opening screen instructs the user to “Click a name to read and send mail”.

CogLink paneled interface. List of buddies on left, instructions at top.

A click presents the user with the same simple interface, but with a message text composition box on the right.

CogLink paneled screen. Buddies listed on left, text-compose box on right.

As the user types a word, a menu box of possible words appears.  The user can choose one, which is then entered into the message.  This word-prediction feature can be disabled.  A button at the bottom will speak aloud the message text at any point.  When done, the user can simply click the “Send” button or the “Cancel” button.

Conclusion

I believe CogLink is easy to use by its intended customer base.  It has many customizable-, accessibility- and safety features.

Other Versions

CogLink has “Pack”, a portable version contained on a USB drive. It also has a version called “TeenMail” with social-connection features for teens with intellectual disabilities.

Funding

Development of these products is “…supported by a National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research SBIR grant, Why Go It Alone?: The Use of Public Resources to Enhance Computer Accessibility for Individuals with Cognitive Disabilities, grant number H133S070096.” Retrieved from http://www.lifetechnologiesllc.com/products.html

Notes

For a review of the training that accompanied the Coglink e-mail software, see my blog post entitled “CogLink E-Mail for People with ID: Review of Its Training“. No endorsement is intended or implied for CogLink.

CogLink E-Mail for People with ID: Review of Its Training

2009/12/16

Coglink is e-mail software designed for use by people with intellectual disabilities.  This is a review of the training that accompanies it.  The next blog post will be a review of the e-mail software itself.

Installation

CogLink arrived on one CD for the training software and one for the e-mail software.  A nice touch is they were labeled with my first name.

Both the training- and the e-mail software are Java-based.  The CogLink Web site says they require Windows XP, but I found they run just fine on Windows Vista. Installation of the training software took what most people would consider to be a long time.  After a little while, an animation does appear, presumably to indicate activity is occurring, but there is no progress bar typical of software-installation programs.

Interface Attributes

The training had three sections: how to use a mouse, how to use a keyboard and how to use the e-mail software.  Each was animated and narrated.  Their screens had simple, written instructions at the tops.  At the bottoms were two buttons, one for restarting the lesson and one for returning to the main menu.  The interface was free of distracting and/or irrelevant elements.screen with text instructions at top, mouse picture in center and buttons at bottom

Lesson Interactivity

Lessons required responses from the learner for each step.  Sessions had multiple practice instances.  Feedback occurred via voice- and written prompts. Most correct responses were followed by a visual- and an audio prompt that simply said, “Correct”.  The consequences for incorrect responses were basically a brief prompt that said, “Not quite”, and a repeated instruction to elicit a correct response.

It was evident the lessons were designed to limit mistake frequency.  Much of the time, the software did not react at all to mistakes, but only to correct responses.  This is good practice.

In the mouse training, an intentional mistake by me was recognized by the software as a correct response.  This is antithetical to the foundation of errorless learning, an instructional technique upon which the training is supposed to be based.  As well, at least one lesson included an instruction on a mistake not to make.  Within the field of applied behavior analysis, this is considered an inadvisable training technique.

Accessibility

The training software does not appear designed to be used with assistive technology, such as screen readers.  However, I judge it accessible to its target population.  In addition to the accessibility attributes mentioned above, it uses simple language, large fonts and contextually-relevant imagery.

Conclusion

The training provides instruction and practice for the most basic skills needed to use the e-mail software.  It was a good choice to include lessons on using a mouse and a keyboard.  Overall, I judge the training to be a fine attempt at helping people with intellectual disabilities to learn how to use the e-mail software, and one that is accessible to them.

Note: This is a follow-up to my previous post entitled “E-Mail Software for People with Cognitive Disabilities“. No endorsement is intended or implied for CogLink.

Great Text Accessibility Toolbar for People with Cognitive Disabilities

2009/12/12

I recently discovered Talklets, a text accessibility toolbar for Web sites that could be of great help to people with cognitive disabilities.  It can be seen in action on the Web site of Rok Talk, the developer, and on the Web site of Regional Support Centre, Scotland North & East.  Take a look at it on the latter site.  To do so, click the button entitled “Click to Show Text Reader” on the right of the home page, near the top.  The toolbar then appears at the bottom of the page.  The main part of it looks like this.

strip of round, colored buttons with symbols for play, stop, record, etc.

Features

Via simple buttons, the toolbar enables Web site visitors to:

  • listen to the text of the entire page or just to the text to which a user points the cursor;
  • record the text to a MP3 file that can be easily downloaded;
  • enlarge, reduce or restore the text size;
  • highlight the text in different colors; and
  • see a help window that explains how to use each feature.

Extra features include enabling users to retrieve the definition of any word, change the pronunciation of a word, and highlight words as they are read.

The developer says the toolbar does not interfere with screen readers, and can be used by people who are blind (and don’t have access to a screen reader) via keyboard controls.

Follow-Up

I will be contacting Rok Talk to discuss its pricing structure and to determine if it would be willing to let me experiment with the toolbar on the future Clear Helper Web site.

Note: No endorsement is intended or implied for this product.

No Accessibility Benefit To Google Analytics Asynchronous Tracking

2009/12/08

For years, I have used the Google Analytics JavaScript snippet to track Web page usage.  The problem for Web sites is they do not track visits by assistive technology (AT) users who, for accessibility reasons, have JavaScript turned off in their Web browsers.  The problem for AT users, particularly screen-reader users, who keep JavaScript enabled, is they are warned a JavaScript element is present, but it serves no practical value for them.

On December 1 of this year, Google introduced asynchronous tracking for its Analytics program.   It’s purpose is to speed the loading of pages.  What interested me was that it required the JavaScript snippet to be moved from the body of the page to its header.  I speculated that if it were located in the header, screen-reader users would not receive a warning about it.  I implemented the move, and found I was wrong.

In this WAVE accessibility evaluation report of the Clear Helper home page, the little yellow icon at the top, center, clearly shows a JavaScript warning.  Ultimately, this is not a problem for experienced AT/screen-reader users because they encounter such JavaScript all the time and know to ignore it.  For people with cognitive disabilities and others who do not use AT, it poses no problem at all.

Screen Readers, Web Site TTS Plug-ins, Etc.

2009/12/07

For people who are blind or who have difficulty reading, there are a variety of solutions for converting text to speech (TTS).  This post is a follow-up to my brief look at Accessible Rich Media Players and TTS for Web Sites.

Screen readers are software programs that read out loud in a voice the text that appears on the computer screen.

Screen Readers For All Purposes

JAWS (Job Access With Speech) is the most popular.  I have been using its professional version, since its inception many years ago, to test Web site accessibility. Windows Eyes, Zoom Text and System Access are its closest, commercial competitors.

Free alternatives include Thunder and NVDA, which is growing in popularity.  Others are built into Windows (see Microsoft assistive technologies) and OS X (see VoiceOver, the well regarded screen reader that is part of Apple assistive technologies).

Screen Readers For The Web

WebAnywhere and FireVox, which is a Firefox extension, work only for the Web.  Both are free.

  • WebAIM Screen Reader Simulation provides a way to experience what it is like to use a screen reader.
  • Fangs, a Firefox extension, is a screen reader emulator that recreates a Web page similar to how it would be read by screen reader.

Text-To-Speech Plug-ins for Web Sites

Many Web sites offer their visitors TTS capability.  Visitors are required to download and install a software plug-in.  Once that is done, visitors are able to listen to the text on any Web site that uses the same TTS technology.  One popular example is BrowseAloud.  Its costs, which are for the Web site owner, are not listed on its Web site.  It does have a free trial.  Another example is Speaks For Itself. It appears to be free, but it seems it has not been updated recently.

Miscellaneous, But Related

ClaroRead, PenFriend and EasyTutor have screen-reader functionality, but are intended more for helping people read and write.

There are also screen magnification programs such as Magic (commercial) and Virtual Magnifying Glass (free).


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