Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New software helps the visually impaired to view web pages

Lighthouse International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to help visually impaired people, today announced the launch of a new add-on software tool that helps visually challenged to view all types of Web pages.

The new software tool, LowBrowse, enables people with moderate to severe vision problems to view Web pages in their optimized form, according to the company. This is the first of its kind open source program, said Lighthouse officials.

LowBrowse officials say it’s part of a research project aimed at designing interfaces for users with low vision. The project is funded by National Eye Institute. While many other programs available for visually impaired people are aimed at blind people, LowBrowse targets people with some vision, officials say.

LowBrowse allows the special users to alter Web pages according to their specific needs, according to the company.

Using LowBrowse technology, they can set preferences for font, text size, color contrast and letter spacing. The tool can be applied to Web pages with graphics and photos. While making the above changes, semantic text features such as link color, italics and bold are preserved in the reading frame. To view an image in the enlarged form, users need to just press a button or move the mouse. The software provides a speech capability feature for people with extremely low vision.

LowBrowse is intended for Mozilla Firefox, Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. Lighthouse also plans to offer it as an add-on to Firefox by fall 2008. The program is simple to use and easily downloadable from anywhere on a flash drive, said Lighthouse. The company says it plans to offer the software in multiple languages as well.

“This technology enables all the text on a Web site to be presented in the same readable format – size, color, font and spacing – regardless of which page is being viewed and without having to navigate to the next line,” said Aries Arditi, senior research fellow in Vision Science at Lighthouse International.Arditi, the head of the project, said that the system “further democratizes the Internet and empowers millions of people with low vision.”

Tara A. Cortes, president and chief executive officer of Lighthouse International, said that the technology finds a lot of relevance as millions of people worldwide suffer from vision loss daily from age-related problems and diabetes.

According to a national survey conducted by Lighthouse International, 16.5 million people of age 45 and above suffer from vision problems even with the help of glasses or contact lenses. The number is expected to rise to 20 million by 2010.


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