Virtual Reality

, Volume 9, Issue 2–3, pp 133–148 | Cite as

A novel multimodal interface for improving visually impaired people’s web accessibility

  • Wai Yu
  • Ravi Kuber
  • Emma Murphy
  • Philip Strain
  • Graham McAllister
Original Article


This paper introduces a novel interface designed to help blind and visually impaired people to explore and navigate on the Web. In contrast to traditionally used assistive tools, such as screen readers and magnifiers, the new interface employs a combination of both audio and haptic features to provide spatial and navigational information to users. The haptic features are presented via a low-cost force feedback mouse allowing blind people to interact with the Web, in a similar fashion to their sighted counterparts. The audio provides navigational and textual information through the use of non-speech sounds and synthesised speech. Interacting with the multimodal interface offers a novel experience to target users, especially to those with total blindness. A series of experiments have been conducted to ascertain the usability of the interface and compare its performance to that of a traditional screen reader. Results have shown the advantages that the new multimodal interface offers blind and visually impaired people. This includes the enhanced perception of the spatial layout of Web pages, and navigation towards elements on a page. Certain issues regarding the design of the haptic and audio features raised in the evaluation are discussed and presented in terms of recommendations for future work.


Multimodal interface Haptics Audio Assistive technology Web accessibility Web navigation 


  1. 1.
    The Web Access and Inclusion for Disabled People, A Formal Investigation conducted by the Disability Rights Commission.
  2. 2.
    Hakkinen M, Dewitt J (1996) WebSpeak: user interface design of an accessible web browser. White Paper, The Productivity Works Inc., NJGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Zajicek M, Powell C, Reeves C (1998) A web navigation tool for the blind. In: Proceedings of the 3rd ACM/SIGAPH on assistive technologies, pp 204–206Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Donker H, Klante P, Gorny P (2002) The design of auditory user interfaces for blind users. In: Proceedings Nordichi, pp 149–156Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Goose S, Moller C (1998) A 3D audio only interactive web browser: using spatialization to convey hypermedia document structure. In: Proceedings of the 7th ACM international conference on multimedia, pp 363–371Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Roth P, Petrucci LS, Assimacopoulos A, Pun T (2000) Audio-haptic internet browser and associated tools for blind users and visually impaired computer users. Workshop on friendly exchanging through the net, pp 57–62Google Scholar
  7. 7.
  8. 8.
    Ramstein C, Martial O, Dufresne A, Carignan M, Chassé P, Mabilleau P (1996) Touching and hearing GUI’s: design issues for the PC-Access system. Proc Assist Technol 2–9Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Brewster SA (2001) The impact of Haptic ‘Touching’ technology on cultural applications. In: Proceedings of the electronic imaging and the visual arts, pp 1–14Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Yu W, Reid D, Brewster SA (2002) Web-based multi-modal graphs for visually impaired people. In: Proceedings of the 1st Cambridge Workshop on Universal Access and Assistive Technology, pp 97–108Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Parente P, Bishop G (2003) BATS: The blind audio tactile mapping system. In: Proceedings of the ACMSE, Savannah, GAGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    IFeelPixel: Haptics & Sonification
  13. 13.
    Caffrey A, McCrindle R (2004) Developing a multimodal web application. In: Proceedings of the 5th international conference disability virtual reality and associated technologies, pp 165–172Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Lahav O, Mioduser D (2000) Multisensory virtual environment for supporting blind persons’ acquisition of spatial cognitive mapping, orientation and mobility skills. In: Proceedings of the 3rd international conference disability virtual reality and associated technologies, pp 53–58Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Jansson G, Monaci L (2005) Haptic identification of objects with different numbers of fingers. In: Ballesteros S, Heller MA (eds) Touch, blindness and neuroscience. UNED Press, MadridGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Sharmin S, Evreinov G, Raisamo R (2005) Non-visual feedback cues for pen computing. In: Proceedings of the World Haptics, pp 625–628Google Scholar
  17. 17.
  18. 18.
    Mozilla Firefox.
  19. 19.
    Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0.
  20. 20.
    DOM: Document Object Model.
  21. 21.
    Turner D, Oeschger I (2003) Creating XPCom components, Open SourceGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Maclean K (1999) Application-centered Haptic interface design. In: Srinivasan M, Cutkosky M (eds) Human and machine haptics. MIT Press, MAGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Representations of Visual Geo-Spatial Information.
  24. 24.
  25. 25.
    Stevens RD, Edwards AN (1996) An approach to the evaluation of assistive technology. In: Proceedings of the 2nd annual ACM conference on assistive technologies, pp 64–71Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Yu W, Ramloll R, Brewster S, Riedel B (2001) Exploring computer-generated line graphs through virtual touch. In: Proceedings of the 6th international symposium on signal processing and its applications, pp 72–75Google Scholar
  27. 27.
  28. 28.
    JAWS commands help guide. Freedom Scientific SoftwareGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wai Yu
    • 1
  • Ravi Kuber
    • 1
  • Emma Murphy
    • 1
  • Philip Strain
    • 1
  • Graham McAllister
    • 1
  1. 1.Queen’s University of BelfastBelfastUK

Personalised recommendations