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Chapter 5: How do Blind/Vision Impaired Users Benefit from the internet

Nowadays the internet is used worldwide for a variety of purposes, i.e. learning, entertainment, exchange of information, and email. All these tasks, thanks to the advanced features of up-to-date assistive technology, can be accomplished not only by sighted users, but also by those who are vision impaired or blind.

It may take longer for assistive technology users to view a given website for the first time, but once they become familiar with it, they can find information more quickly than those who do not use assistive technology. It takes longer to explore the web site for the first time because while sighted people can immediately identify the area of the website that they are looking for, blind users have to go through the contents of the page to identify the layout of the webpage, i.e., where to look for various links, buttons, and pieces of text. Once they do the initial exploration, however, they can bookmark the links to which they think they will be coming back often. The next time they go to the web page, they can easily find the bookmarked information.

It is difficult to follow any of the prescribed guidelines when navigating a website, due to the fact that most of them are designed according to the individual preferences of millions of internet users, and hardly follow any guidelines of a uniform design. While a desired link may be found on the top of the web page, it may be located at the very bottom of another web page. Both web pages may be designed correctly, and a sighted user may be able to find the desired link right away, just by glancing at the page. It will take longer for users of a screen reader to find the link that is at the bottom of the page, because they will have to go through a list of links before they will be able to “spot” the one they are looking for.

Nevertheless, screen reader users are able to use most of the things that the internet has to offer: email services, search engines, and discussion lists. They range from guides and curricula for teachers and electronic libraries for students, where they can find thousands of books in the electronic format, to news and games.

Exchange of information is another great advantage available to internet users. They can not only exchange private email messages, but also participate in discussion groups, emailing lists dedicated to a specific subject of interest. They can be used by students and teachers, those who do and those who do not depend on access technology. The discussion lists are very easy to use and their primary goal is to share information on a given subject. There are numerous useful discussion groups, ranging from those about the usage of various kinds of assistive technology, to sports, books, cooking, etc.

An increasing number of courses are being offered over the internet. In addition to email exchange, software such as Blackboard is used to facilitate virtual class discussion. There has been an effort to make this kind of software accessible for blind users, so that they can equally participate and benefit from today’s learning resources.

Chapter 1: Introduction to Assistive Technology

Chapter 2: Various Assistive Technologies

Chapter 3: Basic Principles and Ergonomics

Chapter 4: Teaching People Who are Blind or Low Vision

Chapter 6: Accessible Web Design

Chapter 7: Overbrook Resources

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