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FW: tech: nasa web browser

From: Alan Cantor <acantor@interlog.com>
Date: Tue, 7 Dec 1999 14:01:48 -0500
To: "WAI Interest Group" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <NDBBIFAOLLCHBBKFDBJJIEFCCAAA.acantor@interlog.com>
Business Week

ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY by John M. Williams

September 29, 1999
   From NASA, a Web Search Tool for the Blind
   "Illiad" can grab text -- and even some graphics -- and deliver it via
e-mail to visually impaired surfers
   When we think of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA),
most of us envision U.S. astronauts landing on the moon, the
   Hubble Telescope, or robots scouring the surface of Mars. All the work of
great scientists who have dared to boldly go where no man (or
   woman, for that matter) has gone before.
   It may surprise you to know that, as part of NASA's decades-long mission
to discover commercial applications for its space-related technology, the
agency also develops assistive technology products.
   Take the "Iliad," a navigational tool on the Information Superhighway. An
acronym for Internet Library Information Access Device, Iliad is a
   powerful NASA browser that can retrieve text-based information quickly
off the Internet.
   It was originally developed as a classroom aid for teachers -- who are
among NASA's biggest consumers of information about the space program.
   Many teachers have limited computer access, so they needed a simple,
time-saving way to quickly search the Web. But NASA soon realized that Iliad
had more than one audience. Just so happens its text-based
   e-mail interface is ideally suited for Internet users who are either
blind or visually impaired. That's because blind and visually impaired Web
surfers much prefer using text-based e-mail search tools over
   graphical Web browsers (see BW Online, 8/25/99, "A Browser That Reveals
the Web to the Blind").
   FOR SEEING EYES ONLY. Internet accessibility has been an issue for blind
and visually impaired users ever since the Net took off a decade ago. Early
on, all software primarily ran in text-mode under MS-DOS.
   Blind users could access information using DOS-based screen readers and
e-mail programs. But as computers and software technology expanded to
reading graphical material, text-based software became almost
   obsolete. To add to this problem, Web designers rarely, if at all,
include accessibility features when designing sites. It's not just that
blind people can't see the graphs and charts. The Problem is, information in
charts and graphs can't be read as text by most browsers. That's where the
Iliad system comes in. Not only does it search out text-based information on
the Web but it can also strip the coding from some graphical material and
present the information in a text-based format. Then blind and visually
impaired cyber-surfers
   can use computer-voice programs to have the data read to them by their
computers, or magnify the text to read via enlargement programs. They
   can also print out the information in braille.
   Robert Shelton, a blind computer scientist, was one of the members of the
NASA team that developed Illiad in 1995 at the Johnson Space Center in
Houston. "When I took over the project, I was new to the Internet. Iliad has
opened up the Internet as a resource for me,"
   Shelton says. He uses Iliad, as do other members of his team, when he
needs to do Web searches.
   QUICK TURNAROUND. Iliad was designed to be quick and extremely easy to
use. Blind or visually impaired users send an e-mail message to the Iliad
home address and type in the search request using keywords. The
   program allows users to send keyword queries to multiple search engines
on the Web. The program screens out highly graphical and duplicate
documents, performs searches off-line, and has search results e-mailed as
full-text documents, all in a quick turnaround time -- usually 15 to 30
minutes.
   Specialized options include sending keywords to a single Web search
engine, receiving search results with embedded hyperlinks or as an HTML
document, and retrieving documents from a specific Web address.
   Of course, the receiver must then have the means either to magnify the
   text, have it printed in braille, or have it read. Fortunately, most
computers today come equipped with zoom-text features. And text-to-speech
software can be purchased for only a few hundred dollars. Most Iliad users
receive the results of their searchers as
   individual text documents in their e-mail.
   The project is sponsored by NASA's Performance computing & Communications
Program education effort, the Learning Technologies Project. A few years
ago, NASA's Technology Transfer Office at Stennis Space Center in South
Mississippi upgraded the accessibility of Iliad
   to the blind audience, with the help of the Rehabilitation Research &
Training Center on Blindness & Low Vision at Mississippi State University.
   MINIMAL REQUIREMENTS. "Computer users who are blind or severely visually
impaired realize that cyberspace is jammed with exciting information," says
Brenda Cavenaugh, research scientist at Mississippi State. "Unfortunately,
the vastness and highly graphical nature of its resources often make it
difficult to locate specific topics. With
   Iliad, you can search the Web without having to use a graphical browser,
such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator."
   The Iliad Web site is located on the campus of the University of Texas in
Austin, and at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The American
   Foundation for the Blind in New York is exploring the possibility of
hosting Iliad on its server as a permanent home. Since becoming operational
in spring 1998, the Iliad site has had more than 10,000 visits, with the
NASA site averaging approximately 1,000 search requests each month.
   There's no charge and hardly any minimum hardware requirements to use
Iliad. All you need is a computer (even an antique pre-Commodore 8088
   will do), a modem of any speed, and an Internet service provider to
access the site. Iliad is also accessible from a mobile phone.
   To receive instructions on using Iliad, send an e-mail message to
iliad@msstate.edu, iliad@prime.jsc.nasa.gov, or iliad@rosy.tenet.edu.
   Leave the subject line blank, and type "start iliad" (without the quotes)
in the body of the message. You'll get an e-mail back that will walk you
through your first  session.
   Iliad should be promoted to a greater degree among the major teachers'
organizations and other teaching outlets in the country. It also would
   be ideal for a commercial venture. Any risk takers out there?
   Williams writes about assistive technology every week for BW Online.
Received on Tuesday, 7 December 1999 14:00:29 GMT

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