The University of Southampton

New toolbar to aid web accessibility

Published: 19 January 2010

A toolbar which will enhance accessibility of the World Wide Web has been developed by researchers at the University of Southampton.

Sebastian Skuse, Technical Project Assistant Learning Societies Lab of the School of Electronics and Computer Science, worked with Dr Mike Wald and E.A. Draffan to develop the new JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) TechDis Toolbar, which can be easily installed and is compatible with any platform.

The project is funded by JISC Techdis which "aims to be the leading educational advisory service, working across the UK, in the fields of accessibility and inclusion."

A key feature of the toolbar is that it reads text aloud, spell checks, and offers a dictionary, text enlargement, colour and font changes. It can also be used with Web services such as wikis, blogs, social networks and Twitter, which has not been possible before without specially-installed (and often expensive) assistive technologies. "The toolbar, which is quick and easy to install, will make websites a lot easier for people to use," said Sebastian. "For example, a visually impaired user can switch any webpage into a high contrast mode, increase the text size, or have the page read to them." The toolbar is ready for further beta testing and is available to download free. It is also possible to add the toolbar as a ‘bookmark’ or ‘favourite’ and website owners may also embed the toolbar within their pages, so visitors can load the toolbar instantly.

The researchers are now considering the viability of making the facility available on mobile devices.

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