RESNA 26th International Annual Confence

Technology & Disability: Research, Design, Practice & Policy

June 19 to June 23, 2003
Atlanta, Georgia


Kevin Curran, Ivan Crawford and Lisa O’Hara
University of Ulster, Magee Campus,
Londonderry, UK, BT48 7JL,


Speech recognition can give people with severe disabilities more control over their personal environments. For people with physical disabilities affecting the use of their hands, productivity is far more personal. Speech recognition can enable some people to perform daily living tasks without assistance. For others, such as the growing number of professionals afflicted with repetitive stress syndrome (RSI), speech recognition represents a means of getting or keeping employment. Thus speech recognition as a navigation aid is a key in solving the dilemma of a subset of disabled surfers. This paper discusses the results obtained from evaluation of a website for the disabled. The results of the evaluation by local health board officials indicated a positive response to the Voice Navigable website and aided recommendations for future work such as adding a range of vocal speeds, accents and characters.


Reasons that people with a disability use voice recognition include limited use of hands, difficulty with spelling, inability to touch type and need a fast way of working. Therefore a user needing to work “hands-free” will need a reliable method of controlling menus; a means of moving and clicking the mouse using voice commands and a correction mechanism that works completely by voice. Users with spelling difficulties need predictive correction, text to speech feature to help with proof-reading and a facility to “play back” what was dictated (i.e. your voice) and people who wish to speed up tying are likely to be most interested in speed of recognition and easy correction using the mouse. Many visually impaired users are attracted to the idea of operating their computer by voice, either necessitated through keyboarding difficulties or lack of touch-typing proficiency.


In order to demonstrate Web site navigation via voice, a disability Web site was developed enabling voice interaction with the site. The technology selected was Interactive Speech Technology’s 1 Voice Navigation Module. MakeWord was used to vocally activate HTML pages, interface development, installing the Voice Navigation module, creating voice commands, human factors of command and control and utilising pre-recorded audio files. The site was named disABILITY Interactive consisting pages which are vocally linked and therefore navigable by speech. Interactive Speech Technologies provides a basis for incorporating voice navigation technology to Macromedia Flash movies, 3D animations and regular HTML pages. Along with MakeWord, the voice navigation module enabled voice commands throughout the Web site. Ergonomics and navigability are important issues when designing Web sites. Voice navigation answers web-surfers needs in terms of interactivity and conviviality. When a visitor of the website arrives on the page his/her browser downloads the text and pictures of that page. At the same time, the voice-navigation plugin automatically downloads the .IAS file and then waits until the user pronounces one of the vocal links contained in this .IAS file. When this happens, the plugin asks the browser to ‘jump’ to the desired page.

Figure 1 : Voice Navigable disABILITY Interactive Web site
Figure 1 shows the main disability Web site page which enables voice interaction with the site.  The Voice Navigation Module plugin can be seen on the right of the page. When a visitor of the website arrives on the page his/her browser downloads the text and pictures of that page.  At the same time, the voice-navigation plugin waits until the user pronounces one of the vocal links contained on the page. When this happens, the plugin asks the browser to open the desired page.

The voice navigation system is based on an acoustic comparison between, on one hand, the voice link pronounced by the visitor when visiting a given page and, on the other hand, the possible voice commands available on this page. These possible voice commands are defined and recorded by the website designer. Many people who use command-and-control applications view speech recognition as a facet of the machine they are operating. For them, the role of speech is to translate verbal commands directly into action. There is often little tolerance of error and no patience for slow throughput or efficiency. Command-and-control systems must be simple and easy to use and must possess vocabulary that is easy to remember and access. Environment control systems for people with disabilities require tailoring to the needs of each individual. For people with severe speech problems this may require careful selection of vocabulary to enhance word differentiation within capabilities of the individual. Pre-recorded audio files enable the user to hear an introduction to the Web site, information about other disability groups and so forth. It adds value by way of developing interactivity between the user and the Web site.


In our initial prototype, we believed that the commands were chosen and recorded with great care to guarantee a unique Voice Navigation experience to all visitors however the experience in the field was somewhat different. Over a period of two weeks of use in the community at various nursing homes, hospitals, senior citizen groups – our findings were as follows:

In addition, during the iterative testing and evaluation, a number of issues arose such as restrictions in the actual range of voices and lack of support for speech impediments. Therefore, our main priority in the near future is to:


What makes interactive speech systems particularly interesting at the present time is that they have recently become commercially available in their most versatile and natural form, i.e. real-time systems that understand speaker-independent continuous speech. Acceptable-quality speech synthesis in several languages has already been in existence for some time. Our system provides a facility that enables users with different forms of disability to navigate the World Wide Web in a variety of ways. It demonstrates that the concept of Voice Navigation through the World Wide Web holds much potential for computer users with disabilities, office staff and developing the mobile Information Technology Market.


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