Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Web Access for Blind and Visually Impaired

Source:  "Addressing challenges in web accessibility for the blind and visually impaired" Authors:  Angela Guercio, Charles Haiber, Kathleen Stirbens, Joseph Williams
From: International Journal of Distyance Education Technology 9.4 (Oct-Dec 2011) pg.1

This article highlights an assistive device called WAVES (web accessibility for visually impaired extraction system)

As if it isn't difficult enough for the blind and visually impaired to interact in a visual world, we now put major emphasis on the web when it comes to research and distance learning.  There are many systems and devices such as braille and screen readers to assist the visually impaired, but even the most advanced screen reading devices get confused by the framing and multidimensional layouts of web pages. 

Sighted individuals use more visual clues than they realize.  They can skim text, see pictures, notice bold or colored text, and easily find other clues to quickly guide them through web pages.  Information is easily accessible.  This is not the case for the visually impaired.  They must process each word of text with  a screen reader to get the basic idea of a single page.  This can be very time consuming and frustrating

This is where the WAVES system can help.  It restructures web pages by processing the visual clues that sighted users see (such as bold lettering or colors) , and ordering them by importance.  It then creates linked paths or "elements of interest" that branch into deeper levels of information.  This system allows for visually impaired people to navigate web pages with the assistance of their screen readers, in a similar way as sighted individuals navigate a graphic user interface with their mouse or keyboard.

Assistive Listening Devices

Source: "They Can Hear You Now: increasing clarity in speech and industrial media reaps big dividends for both students and teachers"
Author: Elaine Jones
From: Technology and Learning 28.11 (June 2008) pg.43

In sum, this article covers how assistive listening devices can be used for all students- not just hearing impaired.  Specifically, it highlights a device called a Soundfield System.

Classrooms are intended as learning environments, but they are not always good listening environments.  There are classroom noises and distractions, and sometimes classrooms are simply too full or too large for ideal acoustics.  Students who sit in the back miss out on important information, and underdeveloped minds of young students cannot easily fill in gaps if they missed hearing something.

With new electronic media, or even "old school" chalkboards, teachers often are facing away from students as they write, making projection even more difficult.

All of these are reasons why assistive listening devices could benefit all students, not just hearing impaired.  Giving each student an individual listening device would be impractical and very expensive.  this is why engineers have developed an assistive listening system called a Soundfield System.  The  Soundfield System works similar to the way a hearing aid works, but on a larger scale.  It uses radio frequencies (IF) or infrared (IR) to a receiver, but rather than transmitting the signal to an individual's ear piece, it it sent to strategically placed loudspeakers around the classroom. 

Basically it works like this:

Portable transmitter and microphone worn by teacher  -->  receiver --> loudspeakers (at least 4)

Schools that have implemented this device have had positive reviews.  Teachers like it because they don't have to strain their voices.  They are able to enhance lectures using intonation, rather than constantly projecting.  In some instances, teacher-student relationships improved because students no longer felt like they were being "yelled at".

Assistive Devices Q & A:

Q1.  How can an assistive listening system help all students, not just hearing impaired?
A1.  An assistive listening system allows all students to hear instruction from anywhere in the classroom, so they don't miss out on any part of the lesson.

Q2.  What are the basic components of the Soundfeild System?
A2.  The teacher's microphone and transmitter, radio frequencies or infrared signals, a receiver, and loudspeakers

Q3.  What are some of the visual cues that sighted individuals use to navigate web sites, that the visually impaired cannot use?
A3.  Font size and color, images, captions, and links

Q4.  What does the WAVES system do that other screen readers for the visually impaired cannot do?
A4.  WAVES can restructure a web page by converting visual cues into words a screen reader can process, and then it links information by importance.  . 

Q5.  How can assistive devices benefit educators?
A5.  Most teachers have students with disabilities, and it can be more difficult to instruct them.   Devices developed to aid disabled students allow them to learn more easily along with other students.