Computer users who are blind or visually impaired often use screen readers to browse the web.
Screen readers such as JAWS for Windows read web content aloud and presents it in a linear format that enables users to navigate the site's sections, headings, sections, and links using keyboard commands.
But when you need the web and can only access public computers - none of which have screen readers installed - what do you do?
One option is logging in to WebAnywhere, a web-based, self-voicing browser accessible on any computer capable of sound. No additional software need be installed.
WebAnywhere is designed for people on the go. It enables users to access information, send and receive email, and perform any online function from any public computer. These might include machines in schools, libraries, cyber cafés, and pay-per-use airport computers.
The program enables users to interact with the web the same way they do using the screen readers on their own computers.
Accessing and Using WebAnywhere
To access WebAnywhere, type wa.cs.washington.edu into your browser and press "Enter."
The WebAnywhere page is divided into two frames: the browser frame and the content frame. The content frame is where type their desired page addresses. The browser frame then reads that content aloud.
WebAnywhere reads all text and enables users to skip through content by headings, input elements, links, paragraphs, and tables. Within each content area, users can also skip forward or backward by sentence, word, or character.
WebAnywhere provides a selection of keyboard commands. Pressing SHIFT in combination with them reverses the direction of the search, going backward from the current cursor position.
- Type a URL to visit. CTRL-L - move the cursor to the location box where you can type a URL to visit
- Arrow Down - read the next element on the page
- Arrow Up - read the previous element on the page
- TAB - skip to the next link or form control
- CTRL-H - skip to the next heading
- CTRL-I - skip to the next input element
- CTRL-R - skip to the next row by cell when in a table
- CTRL-D - skip to the next column by cell when in a table
- Page Down - read continuously from the current position
- Home - read continuously, starting over from the beginning of the page
- CTRL - silence WebAnywhere and pause the system
WebAnywhere supports dynamic page changes better than many existing screen readers and blocks popup windows, helping it to maintain focus - i.e. not start reading content in other windows or applications.
The application works best on machines running Adobe Flash, but will also work with embedded sound players, such as Windows Media Player and Quicktime.
WebAnywhere does not currently work on pages that use frames and users cannot interact with Adobe Flash objects on web pages.
WebAnywhere Advantages Over Traditional Screen Readers
The advantages of WebAnywhere include price, portability, and function.
As screen readers can cost around $1,000, a free alternative ensures web access for all users.
While portable (dongle) screen readers exist, their software often require permission to be installed on public computers, which most users don't have. WebAnywhere speech is generated remotely providing instant access to most computers.
And though it's designed for blind users, voice output has proven beneficial for people who have low vision, learning disabilities such as dyslexia, and to web developers seeking to produce more accessible content.