The World Wide Web hardly bears any boundaries; instead it offers almost unlimited possibilities. The options to present and transfer texts, pictures, videos, audio files and forms are visual means to simplify everyday handling of this medium. This support is meant to be accessible for all users and should make life easier when dealing with information technology. But what if a not so small minority is excluded from this privilege because theses innovations carry unbearable boundaries for them?
It is this minority, blind or strongly visually impaired people, which we worked with as Team group 7 in our project “The guiding eye“. The task was precise and clear: How can everybody, no matter if blind or not, have the possibility to use the internet also creatively without limitation?
Our first inspiration lead us to the idea to program a website that would give the blind and strongly visually impaired people the possibility to use the internet and any website of it like a sighted person. The content of this example website was supposed to deal with Berlin and all leisure and cultural services that the city offers to blind and not-blind people. For the research, we used different sources. On the one hand we investigated the offerings of different internet sites all around Berlin and leisure activities in the metropolis and apart from that we also investigated the offerings of different institutions such as the “Blindenhilfswerk” in order to have a closer look into the subject.
But the main task resulted in an additional one: searching and contacting blind people. In this context we received great support by the FU Berlin. Suddenly, there were 5 blind and strongly visually impaired students of the FU all of who wanted to help us and support our idea. They told us that it is tremendously difficult to use all the possibilities of the internet without stumbling across some sort of barrier.
So in the end, we had a beautifully designed and informative basis but nothing that helps the minority of people we wanted to reach. Further research lead us to Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). This initiative released the first international standards for a barrier-free internet in 1999. We learned that blind people use the PC and the internet in a different way from how sighted people use it. For example, they use another keyboard or just “Braille-Rolls” and texts can only be read with the help of a screen reader (for example NVDA).
Furthermore, we found that there is already a great offer of blind friendly web pages on the internet but few are suitable for portable and easy use. This way we came to the conclusion that designing a website like this would be our new goal. We decided that we should program a website similar to the one of the BVG.
The goal of this new site was to offer blind and strongly visually impaired people in our society the possibility to be able to define their current location and destination portably via PC, Mobile Phone or Blackberry and have screen reader read aloud the fastest and easiest directions.
Throughout the process of developing ideas until putting them into practice there were a lot of seeing but also blind people helping us. It all started with technical implementation of the first and second website. We did not only want to tell people about it, we wanted to be able to present it to them.
In conclusion the work in our project was characterized by challenge, tension and never decreasing interest from our side.
The Guiding Eye Team