Software Tool Helps Visually Impaired See Web Pages

Lighthouse International says its program is the first to allow people with moderate to severe vision problems to view Web pages as the site creators intended.
A nonprofit organization that works to help people with visual impairments has announced a new add-on software tool to help people with impaired vision view more Web pages.

Lighthouse International said its open source program is the first to allow people with moderate to severe vision problems to view Web pages as the site creators intended. LowBrowse allows people to read text on pages altered to meet their needs. The free program works with Mozilla Firefox, Windows, MacOS, and Linux. It also will be available as a Firefox add-on by fall 2008.

LowBrowse allows users to create their own preferences for font, text size, color contrast, and letter spacing. The configuration remains intact for all Web pages, including those with photos and graphics. Semantic text features, like link color, italics, and bold, are preserved in the reading frame. Users can enlarge images by pressing a button and moving the mouse. The program also has a speech capability for users with severe low vision.

Lighthouse International said the program is simple enough for computer novices to use. It can be downloaded from anywhere and takes just seconds to install on a flash drive. It will eventually be available in multiple languages.

Other programs help blind people access the Web, but LowBrowse is geared for those with some vision. It is part of a research project on designing interfaces for users with poor vision. The project is funded by a grant from the National Eye Institute.

"This technology enables all the text on a Web site to be presented in the same readable format -- size, color, font and spacing -- regardless of which page is being viewed and without having to navigate to the next line," said Aries Arditi, senior fellow in Vision Science at Lighthouse International.

Arditi, who leads the research project and is president of the International Society of Low-Vision Research and Rehabilitation, said the system "further democratizes the Internet and empowers millions of people with low vision."

Tara A. Cortes, president and CEO of Lighthouse International, said the technology will become increasingly relevant as baby boomers age and millions of people deal with vision loss from diabetes and age-related macular degeneration.

A national survey by Lighthouse International found that 16.5 million people age 45 and up report some vision impairment even when wearing glasses or contacts. By 2010, this figure will grow to 20 million, according to Lighthouse International.