Wingert: HT 2000

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Aids for Visually Impaired Web Travelers

Session 2a about "Media Issues and Hypertext" boasted of two nominations for the Best Paper Award, namely the third contribution on the agenda about "Generating Presentation Constraints from Rhetorical Structure," a project by several authors and presented by Lloyd Rutledge (Amsterdam), and the first paper, presented by Carole Goble (University of Manchester) (another contribution by several authors), about "The Travails of Visually Impaired Web Travelers," which inspired the title of the present section. Ranking second was a paper (presented by Jason M. Smith, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with two co-authors) about an algorithm allowing frame sections in video sequences to be traced. A possible use of this technology, which probably has not yet been implemented, could be in tracing images in crowd scenes. As the contribution about visually impaired web travelers won the Best Paper Award, it may be appropriate to concentrate on it in more detail.

Carol Goble, Simon Harper, and Robert Stevens (who is the visually impaired person in the team of authors) took the traveling metaphor for "browsing" in the Internet seriously, presenting basic conceptual principles and some first practical results of their studies. Their main objective is to make it easier for visually impaired persons, or even enable them, to use what the web has to offer, especially through the development of software environments which can translate and represent (e.g. by description in words) orientation, navigation and mobility aids for this group. One example was analyzed on the basis of the "Internet Movie Database" both by means of Netscape and by means of a special browser (IBM Home Reader). Nearly all objects which constitute cues for interpretation to users able to see turn into obstacles for people visually impaired (Proceedings, p. 7): "The IMDB is a particularly bad design as no alternatives to the graphics are given, no description tags are included and none of the headings, menus, searches are labeled as such."

The authors are currently conducting a major study with a group of twenty, and seven web offerings. I consider this project worthwhile also because it tries to establish the basic principles of how impaired persons find their orientation, move, and reach their destinations in the real world. This analogy between traveling in the real world and finding one’s way in the virtual world generates sufficient productive insights even if it is obvious (which the authors do not expand on) that the virtual world of the web has no real three-dimensional characteristics.

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