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[Fwd: Product Evaluations: HPR and PWWebspeak]

From: David Poehlman <poehlman@clark.net>
Date: Fri, 05 Nov 1999 17:10:22 -0500
Message-ID: <382355CE.69D0FA6F@clark.net>
To: WAI Interest Group <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Product Evaluations: HPR and PWWebspeak
Date: Fri, 5 Nov 1999 16:23:20 -0800
From: Sam Troia <samtroia@MINDSPRING.COM>
Reply-To: Sam Troia <samtroia@MINDSPRING.COM>
To: VICUG-L@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU

   Product Evaluation

A Review of IBM Home Page Reader and pwWebSpeak
Crista L. Earl, Jay D. Leventhal, and Koert Wehberg



Those shrieks coming from the computer room are not because of
visiting
Alfred's
Haunted House on the Internet. It is just some frustrated users trying
to get
the baseball scores, find a local restaurant's address, or listen to
some
music
without worrying about how each Web site was designed or remembering
five
sets
of hot keys. Users frequently complain that screen readers combined
with
mainstream browsers are difficult to learn to use. In the following
evaluation,
we consider these questions: Do "special" browsers give more
comprehensive
access than that provided by a mainstream browser and a good screen
reader?
Are
they easier to use or more efficient? Is the time spent learning the
"special"
software worth the lost time not spent learning to use the screen
reader?
Have
special browsers kept up with the ever-changing technology of the Web?
We also review Home Page Reader version 2.5 from IBM and pwWebSpeak
version
2.5.14 from The Productivity Works, two Web browsers designed to make
browsing
easier and more effective for visually impaired users. After you read
this
review (and the sidebar, "Mainstream and Special Browsers"), you can
decide
for
yourself if special browsers offer more efficient and comprehensive
access
and
which product best suits your needs.


Mainstream and Special Browsers
A mainstream application with a screen reader can be a formidable tool
to
learn
to use. Users who are inspired to take on the Internet with Netscape
or
Internet
Explorer will need to learn conventional interface characteristics and
screen
reader commands. They will also need to develop strategies for
deciphering
the
visual display. These skills transfer to all other aspects of
computing and
using the Internet and can be superb practice.
One factor that greatly complicates the blind user's success in
accessing
information through a mainstream browser is the process by which
information is
delivered in braille or speech. When a mainstream application displays
information, it converts it into a visual version. Then the screen
reader
must
rearrange the visual version into an aural or braille version. In
addition,
because control of the mainstream application is designed purely
around the
visual interface, the blind user must use tricks and a great deal of
knowledge
to control the application.
A "self-voicing" application (such as a special browser), by contrast,
presents
its information directly in a fashion understandable to the blind
user, and
the
developers design the controls with the blind user in mind. No
third-party
need
make any further interpretation of the information. This approach
ought to
lead
to an efficient method of making the information intelligible to the
blind
user.
However, historically, "special" applications have had technical
problems,
such
as incompatibility with certain systems, and have lagged behind
mainstream
applications in the addition of innovative features.


IBM Home Page Reader 2.5
The IBM Home Page Reader (HPR) functions in conjunction with Netscape
Navigator,
which handles many of the basic chores involved in connecting to Web
pages.
HPR
converts the layout of a page to make it easier for a visually
impaired
user to
navigate. When HPR is opened, Netscape stays primarily in the
background, but
moves to the foreground to download files and to present some error
messages.

Getting Started and Getting Help
HPR's installation dialog boxes are read by a recorded human voice, so
we
were
able to install the software without a screen reader. The last step of
the
installation explains the steps required to set up Netscape (if
Netscape is
not
already installed), but the recorded voice was not available, so a
screen
reader
or sighted assistance was needed for this last step. HPR's on-line
help
page is
displayed in the form of a Web page, so users can familiarize
themselves with
how HPR formats Web pages while they are learning to use the program.

Command Structure
HPR's command structure is based on the PC keyboard's numeric keypad.
Number
keys are used for navigating a Web page, moving through menus, and
changing
speech settings. The commands, including the menu structure, differ
from
conventional Windows commands and from those of Windows-based screen
readers.
Thus, the beginning user has to learn a set of commands that will not
transfer
to any other Windows application. HPR uses the number keys 1-9 for
navigating
through items on a Web page. Commands exist for navigating by word,
item,
character, and link. HPR's settings menu contains all options that can
be
changed by the user. Here, too, the number keys are used to navigate
and
select
the item to be changed.

Browsing a Simple Web Page
HPR displays Web pages in text format. The pages can also be displayed
in the
Netscape window, allowing a sighted user to see part of the text in
the
background. Opening a Web page, searching the Web, and searching for
an
item on
the current page are all initiated with the same key combination.
HPR's main display is divided into three sections: "Contents," which
gives
the
text version of the Web page; "Location," which gives the URL of the
current
page and a history list; and "Links," a list of all items on a page
with
which
the user is able to interact. The user can type a letter in the
"links"
list and
jump to the first link that begins with that letter. HPR includes
frames and
form elements in the links list, as well. Keys on the numeric keypad
can be
used
to navigate through links in the "Contents" window. Basic text pages,
such as
the New York Times page (www.nytimes.com), work very well with HPR.

Browsing a Complex Web Page
HPR does not support Javascript. Since Javascript is often used for
online
banking and other sites that allow users to buy items, this is a major
shortcoming. For example, Citibank's online banking page,
(https://home.da-us.citibank.com/signin/indexkiosk.htm), which is
extremely
easy
to use with Internet Explorer and a good screen reader, did not work
with HPR
due to the lack of Javascript support.
HPR allows the user to navigate frames by presenting them as separate
sections,
and a frame's content is made available only after a frame has been
chosen.
The
user is given a display with the name of the frame and its number. If
users
want
to see links associated with a frame, they can either click on the
frame or
press a key combination, which will expand the frames on the page. By
contrast,
with Internet Explorer 5.0 and a screen reader, the beginning user can
hear
the
content of the Web page and then move from link to link without regard
to
frames. A more knowledgeable user can press Control-Tab to move to the
next
frame.
HPR supports Web pages in several languages. A keystroke switches from
one
language to another. If the user sets the language to "automatic," HPR
will
read
the page in the correct language as it opens. However, the list of
links,
forms,
and messages such as "end of page" will be read in the default
language--English
in our case. IBM plans to release other versions of HPR with different
default
languages.

Reading Tables
HPR's most powerful feature is reading tables. HPR reformats tables
and
presents
each cell as a separate item. The user can move easily through simple
tables
using normal navigation keys. For more complicated or larger tables,
HPR
has a
special mode that allows the user to jump to the top of the column,
the
beginning of the row, and so on. It is very easy to move down any
column,
read
specific entries, and to find the associated heading. This special
mode also
provides table summary information, so that users can ascertain the
size of
the
table and their current position within it.

Filling Out Forms
Simple forms such as the search form at <www.webcrawler.com> work
easily.
Forms
with list boxes and radio buttons can be tedious because each option
in the
list
is presented as a separate item in the "Links" list.

Downloading Files
HPR allows users to navigate FTP sites, but when users try to download
from
an
FTP site or Web page, HPR identifies the material as "special data"
and opens
Netscape so the file can be downloaded. Because HPR does not continue
providing
speech output while Netscape is handling this download, the user will
require a
screen reader or sighted assistance for this task.
Although HPR uses the computer's sound card to produce its speech,
audio
files
can be downloaded easily and opened with few problems. HPR does not
speak
while
the audio file is playing.




pwWebSpeak
In addition to its speech capabilities, pwWebSpeak presents text in
high
contrast, uncluttered screens and provides options to change font
size. These
features make it more attractive than HPR for users with some usable
vision.

Getting Started and Getting Help
Installing pwWebSpeak is simple and takes less than five minutes. A
screen
reader or sighted assistance is required, since the installation
program does
not speak automatically. Users have a choice of three synthesizers.
Softvoice,
the default, works well with pwWebSpeak.
PwWebSpeak's user's manual is straightforward and is presented as a
book with
chapters in a contents list that can be navigated as a Web page. Links
for
technical support and to the Productivity Works home page are also
helpful.

Command Structure
PwWebSpeak's command structure is basic and can be learned in a very
short
period of time. Many commands are assigned to function keys, and less
frequently
needed settings are accessed through one main menu. The arrow keys are
used
to
navigate the page. New users will find the structure simple and easy
to
remember. The hot keys can be customized.

Browsing a Simple Web Page
PwWebSpeak displays a Web page in plain text. It reads the heading of
a page
when it opens and can be set to read the page automatically. Links are
labeled
with the word "link" next to them. Graphics are identified as
"images." On
text
pages, such as the New York Times page, pwWebSpeak performs well. Its
"search
current page" command allows the user to find a specific line of text.

Browsing a Complex Web Page
Besides presenting the text of the Web page in one continuous window
accessible
by pressing the down arrow, pwWebSpeak has windows for links and
forms. This
feature makes it easy for the user to jump directly to a form without
having to
scroll through all preceding text. Pages with more complicated formats
and
advanced page elements proved difficult. PwWebSpeak does not support
Javascript,
which makes it impossible to use certain sites, such as Citibank's
online
banking system, or to purchase items, since the program does not
support
secure
sockets that ensure the private, encoded transmission of data.
PwWebSpeak
also
does not read the titles of frames when navigating through a page. The
user
may
frequently have to guess at what links belong with which frame.

Reading Tables
By default, table cells are broken apart and displayed as separate
lines of
text
within the pwWebSpeak window, the same approach used by HPR and by
some
screen
readers with Internet Explorer. The user can simply press the down
arrow to
hear
each cell of the table read. For simple tables, this approach is
sufficient. For
more complex tables, pwWebSpeak provides a short menu of commands to
jump
to the
beginning of the row, the beginning of the table, the next table, or
the
next or
previous cell.
Unfortunately, it is necessary to jump to the menu and choose these
commands, so
browsing from one row of the table to the next involves six
keystrokes. This
approach makes it clear that the current item is the first cell of the
new
row,
but is prohibitively tedious for meaningful reading. There is no
command to
move
directly down a column other than the first. For example, in looking
for a
game
with a particular opponent in the New York Knick's schedule
(<www.nba.com/knicks/schedule2000.html>), there was no efficient way
to move
down the column of opponents.
PwWebSpeak had one other minor problem with the U.S. Department of
Labor's
"The
Economy at a Glance" page (<stats.bls.gov/eag.table.html>). One row
listed a
month name and year in each cell, but with the year below the month
within
the
same cell. PwWebSpeak attached the first month's year to the second
month's
name, and so on, making it difficult to know which pair actually
belonged
together.

Filling out Forms
Filling out forms is quick and easy. PwWebSpeak creates a list of all
links
and
forms on a page. The user presses Enter on the form and then fills it
out.
List
boxes and radio buttons are presented as conventional controls that
can be
found
in Windows dialog boxes. The user simply arrows up or down in a list
box or
uses
the space bar to check a check box. This method provides maximum
control in
filling out forms.

Downloading Files
Downloading files from Web pages is easy with pwWebSpeak. However, we
were
unable to connect to ftp sites to download from them. Downloading
audio
files is
simple and requires little effort. PwWebSpeak stops speaking when an
audio
file
is open.

What It All Means
HPR's strength is its handling of tables. This feature alone makes it
worth
the
price. If you want to keep your life on the Internet simple, the
choice is
pwWebSpeak. If you want the maximum access to the Web and are willing
to
learn a
full set of screen reader commands, Internet Explorer 5.0 and a good
screen
reader are for you.

Manufacturers' Comments
IBM
"We recognize the JavaScript issue, which is shared by all text
browsers,
and we
are investigating ways to resolve this problem."

The Productivity Works
"E-commerce will be supported in the next release, and we are working
hard to
ensure that popular E-commerce sites function well with our product.
We are
working on supporting Java scripting present in Web content, although
we
cannot
commit to a date since providing good accessibility to dynamic content
is
not a
simple problem. PwWebspeak can read frame titles if Alt-Text (a text
description) is present. FTP should be fully functional. We will
investigate the
difficulty the authors had."




Product Information
Product: IBM Home Page Reader
Manufacturer: IBM Special Needs Systems;
Building 901, Internal Zip 9171;
11400 Burnet Rd.;
Austin, TX 78758;
phone: 800-426-4832 or 512-838-4598;
Web site: <http://www.ibm.com/sns>
Price: $150.



Product: pwWebSpeak
Manufacturer: The Productivity Works,
7 Belmont Circle;
Trenton, NJ 08618;
phone: 609-984-8044;
fax: 609-984-8048;
E-mail: <info@prodworks.com>;
Web Site: <http://www.prodworks.com>.
Price: $150 with Softvoice, $50 without Softvoice.


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Received on Friday, 5 November 1999 17:11:03 GMT

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