New technology to help visually-impaired navigate Web sites

Jessica Dreschel

Close your eyes.

Now try to navigate a Web site.

For Web-users with impaired vision, accessing Web pages can be difficult. Kent State will soon launch software that will help make Web sites more accessible for users with disabilities.

The LIFT Text Transcoder should be launched before the end of the academic year, said Greg Dykes, team leader for information services. Most people with low or no vision use software called screen-readers to “read” aloud what is on the computer screen. Screen-readers work best when the content is easy to read. LIFT makes that happen, said Joe Drew, coordinator of the master of public administration program.

Here’s how LIFT works: A user logs on to the LIFT site. They enter the URL of the site they want to convert. The LIFT server then converts the site’s content to text-only and sends it back to the user’s PC. The process happens instantaneously, Drew said.

Once converted, the text’s color or size can be changed to fit the user’s needs, Drew said.

The LIFT Text Transcoder is a big step in making the university’s Web sites accessible to students with disabilities, said Joe Murray, director of new media.

“The best case is all Web sites being 100 percent accessible. With Joe (Drew), University Communications and Marketing and LIFT, we are gonna get close,” Murray said.

Drew started testing the LIFT software after the university purchased it from UsableNet Inc. in November 2004. He and his assistant, Binamra Dutta, worked with the software to discover strengths and weaknesses, Drew said.

LIFT can also be useful to Kent State staff. The software can help Web programmers develop more accessible Web sites.

Contact academic technology reporter Jessica Dreschel at [email protected].