News and Web read over the phone
Written by Jacob C. Herman
People who are blind need some added help when 'viewing' sites as they cannot see the text or images located on the site. Resources for the blind are abundant on the Internet with services for spoken word monologues for text, phone calls, cell phones, text messaging, and many others. Newspapers, which most of us take for granted, are available to be read to the blind via phone and over the Internet via audio feeds and resources from a variety of sources and sites. Many sites and services offer multiple, if not hundreds, of newspapers available to the blind via audio tracks and streaming audio; there are even some that are multilingual. Using a toll free number blind persons can enjoy the same daily news that any seeing person has access to by pressing the correct number in the option menus when calling in.
While any blind person can answer a phone or cell phone, the email, text messages, and web information can be unobtainable without the proper technology for blind people and the visually challenged. The development of technologies for cell phone use for the blind is new in the technology field and are now becoming readily available from a multitude of cell phone providers and third party companies. This has enabled the blind to utilize voicemail, virtual pbx, and answering services with online and mobile applications. Cell phone companies like Verizon, Spice mobile, and manufacturers like LG have cell phones designed specifically for the blind. Other services provide text reading to the blind on a typical or non-blind designed cell phones called screen readers.
Screen readers are used, and were first employed, with the use of web pages. These readers allow the person using them to move throughout the page and access different areas of content through use of the tab key. The readers can read the content in full, by section or according to where the tab key is positioned. These screen readers unfortunately cannot describe images to the person using them; they can only read the information associated with them such as the "alt" tag in the HTML code. In addition the screen reader has no way of determining the difference between site content and advertising content due to the fact that advertising content looks the same in the coding as page content. These screen readers allow for the blind or visually impaired to have more freedom and rely less on others to help them in their search for common and public knowledge on the web.
Video is not only composed of images but words and sounds as well; companies have developed video readers for blind users to be able to experience the video as well as the text on the screen. They work in a similar function to the screen readers and deliver the metadata, if included by the designer, to explain what the video is about. These video readers set dedicated keys for controlling the video such as volume, replay, rewinding, and playing at varying speeds. The volume of the video audio may need to be adjusted so the user can hear it and the screen reader they are using simultaneously. In addition most videos on the web do not have a standardized placement of buttons on the screen making it nearly impossible for use by the visually impaired. Many companies have these programs available to the public such as IBM.
Web browsers are now being released that are dedicated to the use by the blind and visually impaired. They consist of an integrated screen and video reader, in some cases, as well as over sized browser buttons and text for those who have partial sight capabilities. While these programs are advanced in nature and deliver the needed interface for the blind it is completely dependent upon the designs of the sites being visited to work correctly. Should the site not be designed with these readers in mind a misrepresentation of the content may ensue, or worse, it may not be readable at all. The technology behind most of these browsers allows the entire page to be transformed into a plain text document able to be read by the browser which in turn enables the user to jump between links with greater ease. Companies are now working on vocally controlled web browsers for future release.
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