Apart or A Part? Access to the Internet by Visually Impaired and Blind People, With Particular Emphasis on Assistive Enabling Technology And User Perceptions
The concept of the "Information Superhighway" or the World Wide Web (hereafter referred to as the Web) is well known and understood. The rapidly growing numbers of both users and electronic documents is testimony to the claim that the Web is becoming an everyday part of life for many people. The Web as a digital information environment offers new methods of learning and patterns of information use. So, what does the Web offer to partially sighted and blind people? Does it offer a means of filling the information gap traditionally experienced by visually impaired people? And will this new medium provide equal access to, and use of, public information that has previously been unavailable? The Web has been welcomed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB). The RNIB claims that "the Internet is one of the most significant developments since the invention of Braille ... [because] for the first time ever, many blind and partially sighted people have access to the same wealth of information as sighted people and on the same terms" (RNIB, 1998)' The Web is potentially a democratising tool, promising greater accessibility to information, services and society.
It is important to discover the perceptions of visually impaired users to see whether claims of universal access - and ease of access - are justified and to ascertain the scope for access and use of Web-based resources. There is currently little information available regarding how the Web has affected the lives of visually impaired users. There is no real data on how visually impaired users who use the Web for practical purposes perceive and experience this valuable information tool.
This study aims to document how a specific group of visually impaired students view this medium and to determine the differences in use between partially sighted and blind users. The Web as a means of information discovery and retrieval, its strengths and weaknesses, accessibility, assistive technology and Web page design all warrant investigation, along with how visually impaired users perceive their experience using the Web. The aims of the study are therefore twofold: first, to document perceptions and experiences of Web use by people with visual impairments, and second, to examine how access and use can be improved.
Visually impaired people do not constitute a homogeneous group. Varying degrees of central vision, peripheral vision, light perception and color perception occur. Many visual impairments have specific effects on the individual and cause a variety of limitations on activities (Machell, 1996).
Visual impairments are also unlikely to be stable, particularly for partially sighted people. Visual impairment is affected by print size, media, color ratios, lighting and by the nature and degree of the visual impairment. This means that a wide range of assistive aids are required and different visual impairments may require specific media. Access to and ease of use of a specific medium, for example Web pages, are often determined by document length, design and structure. For discussions concerning current enabling technology, see Carey (1997), Douglas & Lau (1997), Murnion (1996a; 1996b) and Vanderheiden & Chisholm (1998).
The most recent survey of blind and partially sighted adults in the UK was conducted in 1991 (Bruce, McKennell & Walker, 1991). This survey concluded that 1.1 million people were eligible to be registered as visually impaired, but that 1.7 million people found it difficult to read standard print. An earlier survey (Martin, Meltzer & Elliot, 1988) estimated that there were almost two million people in the UK with visual impairments. The number of people who actually experience problems due to visual impairments is generally accepted to be much greater than the official figures. Demographic analysis (Machell, 1996) suggests that the number of visually impaired people will continue to rise, as 66% of those registered as blind or partially sighted are over 75 and this is the fastest growing section of the population.
Wendy (1996) suggests that there are between 10,000 - 20,000 blind and partially sighted adults in the UK who could access the Web. This number could rise dramatically when the Internet becomes accessible via the medium of digital television, as approximately 90% of blind and partially sighted people "watch" television. Wendy states that 60% of blind and partially sighted people claim that television "is one of their most important sources of information" (1996: 28).
Increasingly, equality legislation and standards are beginning to have an impact. The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) came into force in the UK in December 1996. The Act makes it mandatory for "people and/or organisations providing goods, services and facilities to the public, whether paid for or free" to facilitate access by disabled people, including the blind and partially sighted, to these goods, services and facilities (Disability Policy Division, 1997: 48).
The Act is important as it provides a right of access to goods and services and prohibits discrimination (Wendy, 1996). The Act's code of conduct stipulates that from October 1999 information and service providers must provide an equal right of access to goods and services including access to, and use of, information and communications services such as the Web. This is to be achieved by providing auxiliary aids and services to make electronic Web-based information and services accessible to blind and partially sighted people in an accessible and useful form.
The United Nation's "Standard Rules for the Equalisation of Opportunities for Disabled People," adopted in 1993, is a further important statement on this issue. These advocate that members of the United Nations "increase the opportunities for people with disabilities to enjoy active participation in society" (Wendy, 1996: 8). Rule 5(b) is of particular significance as it states that information should be accessible to people with disabilities; appropriate technologies should be used to provide access to written information and documentation for visually impaired people; all electronic information and/or service systems available to the public should be made accessible from conception, or be subjected to the relevant adaptations to enable the information and/or service systems to be available to disabled people.
The Royal National College for the Blind (hereafter referred to as the College) is the UK's leading specialist college for people who are blind or partially sighted (Royal National College for the Blind 1997). It is a residential campus college, based in Hereford, that provides education and training to enable visually impaired people so they can make the transition into employment or further study.
The sample consisted of 10 respondents from the College, of whom seven were students and three were staff members. The student respondents were aged between 18 and 40. The respondents consisted of three women and seven men. The respondents possessed a wide range of eye sight conditions which varied from severe myopia to total blindness. One respondent was also partially deaf and another had learning difficulties. Of the 10 respondents, two were sighted, three were partially sighted, three were congenitally blind and two were adventitiously blind. The staff and students were unknown to the researcher and were selected on their willingness to participate. The staff included an Educational Technology Counsellor, the Flexible Learning Centre Co-ordinator and the Head of Information and Learning Technology.
The range of experience of people using the Web ranged from complete beginners to advanced. The sample was not intended to be representative of the visually impaired community, but to be contextually sympathetic to the visually impaired students at the College at the time the research was undertaken. The combination of the respondents' familiarity with the Web and their willingness to give frank and honest opinions ensured that rich and meaningful data was collected.
The theoretical framework used in this study is the Qualitative Approach advocated by Rubin & Rubin (1995), which states that an interview is a modification of an ordinary conversation in which the contents are respondent-specific. Qualitative researchers are "more interested in the understanding, knowledge and insights of the respondents than in categorising people or events in terms of academic theories" (Rubin & Rubin 1995: 9) and treat the respondents as conversational partners rather than information objects. The knowledge and insight gained will provide more meaningful and sensitive conclusions.
This approach emphasises the relativism of culture, the "hearing" of data, the understanding of meaning in context, and that meaning emerges through interaction with a conversational partner. The concepts of multiple experiences narrated by different respondents and the importance of contextualism are further characteristics of this approach.
The respondent is given an opportunity to talk and explain, and is treated as a conversational partner in an ethical, fair and practical manner. The interview style is open and loosely structured to capture concepts and events of contextual importance in the respondents' lives. Understanding is embedded in, and emerges through, interaction in the interview.
QUALITATIVE DATA COLLECTION: THE INTERVIEW
This study was conducted using a qualitative form of research to uncover and understand what lies behind the phenomena under study. The need to obtain perceptions, experiences, opinions and ideas requires this approach. The interview was chosen as the preferred technique for obtaining data rather than using a questionnaire or observational methods as it is a more suitable method for studying individualistic and complex issues (Stone, 1984; Stone & Harris, 1984).
Data gained from interviews is significantly "rich" as it is gathered in the words of the respondent, increasing its validity and integrity. The interviews were recorded, allowing the respondents' replies to be analysed accurately and to remove distortion and influence on behalf of the interviewer.
A hybrid, semi-structured interview technique that reflects the theoretical framework of the study was used. This involved the use of structured questions to obtain factual information and open-ended questions to obtain "opinions, explanations or descriptions of behaviour" (Stone, 1984: 12). This approach was supplemented with follow-up questions in order to enable clarification and further elucidation of the conversational partners' responses. This developed the depth of understanding regarding issues that were important to the respondent and provided insight into the results of the structured and open-ended questions.
The questions were largely determined in advance and derived from issues that the interviewer wished to discuss (see Appendices A and B). Answers of a descriptive nature were obtained before determining opinions and experiences (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The questions were asked in a clear and non-directive manner in order not to predetermine or "lead" the answers. All the interviews were prefaced with an introduction in which the respondents were assured of anonymity, confidentiality and the right to refuse to answer a question if they so desired.
Obtaining a random sample was problematic and the method adopted was determined by the College which wished to prevent students being contacted in the busy period up to, and during, the summer examination period. The method adopted involved asking for volunteers from the entire student body via e-mail. The first seven replies were selected to minimise any non-random decision-making on behalf of the interviewer. Although this volunteer sample was "self-selecting" the sample may be distorted favouring those who are well-disposed toward the Web and even attracting those who like interviews. This sample technique may have eliminated those who had tried to use the Web and failed or those with no interest, which a random sample may have included. It would have been preferable to interview a wider sample, including those who do not use the Web, in order to obtain a richer, more conclusive and valid picture of the phenomena under study.
The approach used is Strauss & Corbin's Grounded Theory methodology, which is a "method that uses a systematic set of procedures to develop inductively derived ... theory about a phenomena" (1990: 24). It is described as "grounded" since the concepts and relationships identified in the data are developed and tested simultaneously into a theory that is faithful to the subject area, including its context in time and place. The data is conceptualised, and the concepts are related to form a theoretical interpretation of reality. This explains perceived realities and provides a comprehensible framework for action. The researcher derives the analytical categories from the data, rather than deriving them from preconceived hypotheses or concepts.
The theory, and the procedures that generate it, meet the 'criteria for doing "good" science' (Strauss & Corbin 1990: 31) by using a technique called Theoretical Sensitivity to formulate theory that is faithful to the study area. Theoretical Sensitivity is the ability to recognise what is of importance in a data set and to give it relevant meaning. This methodological approach is based on the developments of "theoretically informed interpretation [which] is the most powerful way to bring reality to light" (Strauss & Corbin 1990: 22). Key issues are allowed to emerge from the data, rather than forcing the data into pre-formed categories. This requires repeated examination of the data to allow themes to emerge. Once a theme is recognised other transcripts must be re-examined for evidence of absence, agreement, contrasts and patterns to that theory.
Major differences in the perception and experience of accessing and using the Web by partially sighted and blind respondents have been identified. The issues discussed provoked different responses from these two groups. This suggests that each group has strongly defined and different feelings toward each issue raised - the Web is experienced and perceived differently at both inter and intra-group levels.
These results summarise the differences in opinions that have been observed in the interview data, although since many issues were not deemed relevant by partially sighted individuals, the discussion often focuses on the problems and needs of blind respondents.
The views of blind and partially sighted people can be divided into two distinct groups. The blind respondents felt empowered, both theoretically and practically, as they were able to obtain access to information in a format that they could access and use reasonably well. In contrast, partially sighted respondents did not view this as an issue as their sight impairment was not as severe and their access to the Web not as impeded as their blind counterparts.
EQUITY OF ACCESS
Equity of access was viewed by partially sighted individuals as an important issue as it involves notions of fair play and inclusion, but it was not seen as something that affected them directly. The predominant feeling within the group of blind respondents was that equity of access was an important ideal, but that it is an issue which should be viewed realistically, as in their experience equitable access to Web resources is rarely found to exist.
The idea of differential access was not raised by the student respondents, which is surprising. It suggests that the students do not consciously view themselves as being different from each other regarding how their sight affects their access. It appears that those respondents interviewed are more concerned with applying themselves to obtain the most effective access they can in an atmosphere of self-help and support. In contrast, the staff respondents noted that differential access did exist and that this was determined by the amount of sight that the individual possessed, and by an individual's willingness to "have a go" and the confidence to succeed. Age, the level of supervision, and training were identified as other key factors.
The student respondents were in agreement that access to the Web could and should be improved as access is slowly getting harder for the blind users and because the efforts to improve access would ultimately improve access for everyone. The staff respondents suggested that the improvements should be twofold. First it should include instruction on what the Web is, how it works and how to access it. Second, such improvements should encourage a greater awareness of issues and communication within the sectors involved in developing the Web. An essential part of improving the Web for people with visual impairments is that they should be involved from the beginning in the development of the technology that is designed to help them.
LIMITATIONS AND ADVANTAGES
The overriding perceptions - particularly of the blind respondents - were that the advantages of using the Web considerably outweighed the disadvantages and that some access was better than none. The experience of the respondents was that as well as being a practical device that was a convenient information search and retrieval tool, the Web also possesses value-added qualities because it promotes accessibility, independence, confidence, communication skills, and improved quality of life. The partially sighted respondents did not report any limitations to their access, confirming that their access is easier and faster than that of blind individuals. The blind respondents expected that their ability to access the Web would get easier and better in the future, allowing them to more fully reach the potential of the Web.
USE OF THE WEB
The partially sighted respondents have demonstrated that they use the Web as a matter of course, and that problems they experience are fairly simple to solve. In contrast, the blind respondents experience difficulties trying to achieve a more limited form of access and use, but appreciate the parity and participation offered by the Web. The use of the Web by these respondents is primarily for the same reasons as anyone else - as a form of relaxation, education, and entertainment. The value-added nature of the Web is an important element of use for blind respondents, as it enables the user to be proactive and self-reliant, rather than reactive and dependent.
NAVIGATION AND AWARENESS PROBLEMS
Blind respondents - who experience greater difficulties and a more limited form of access than other users - can be as proficient and successful as any other user if knowledge of awareness issues and requirements for physical access are understood. This study has found that blind users learning to use the Web without this awareness experience less successful access, are more prone to getting lost, take longer to complete a task, and switch off the computer in frustration more readily. These users perceive themselves as less confident and less aware of the choices and protocols for successful use. No evidence was found for superstitious behaviour determining Web use. The more experienced user is more confident of the ability to rectify mistakes and makes use of a combination of informed guesses and a methodological approach to maximise use.
SIGNIFICANCE AND APPROPRIATENESS
The Web has been found to be of less significance to partially sighted individuals who have a wider choice of media and a greater choice within those media. For them, the Web is perceived as just another information resource. This view was also shared by the older blind Web users who preferred to use the methods that they had been relying on, as those methods were perceived as more appropriate and successful for them. The younger blind users viewed the Web as most useful, convenient and up-to-date, and appreciated its ability to build self-esteem and confidence. The less experienced users perceived that the Web would become a more appropriate medium only if they learned the skills necessary to optimise access and use.
THE WEB AS AN AGENCY OF EXCLUSION
The partially sighted students did not feel excluded from any part or function of the Web and viewed themselves as akin to sighted users. The perceptions of the blind respondents were more complex . The majority felt included as they were able to participate, while a minority felt excluded as access and use was more difficult and took longer. The way information is displayed on a Web page is of key importance as a it determines the extent of inclusion or exclusion.
USE OF ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY
A wide variety of aids are available depending on the amount of eye sight and an individual's preference. The use of a screen reader to access the Web was determined to be paramount by the blind respondents. They would simply not have any independent access without this technology.
EFFECTIVENESS AND LIMITATIONS OF ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY
Although screen reading technology has improved dramatically recently, it is not an optimal method for using the Web as it is a "bolt-on" extra, rather than being designed into products from the beginning. Actual physical access to Web resources by blind individuals is not diminished, but much of it can be less meaningful as the users are less sophisticated. Consequently, screen reader technology is always "chasing" in terms of being compatible with the latest software. The trend toward making Web pages more graphically and complexly structured is making it increasingly difficult for screen reader technology to effectively inform users of a Web page's contents and to identify choice options and evaluate the resource.
VALUE OF ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY
The value of the aids used by visually impaired individuals is immense, despite offering variable access depending on the type of aid used and what it is used with. The aids required by partially sighted individuals are more widespread than the screen readers used by blind individuals. The blind respondents had no experiences of using this technology outside of the college, which suggests that there is failure in compliance with the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995).
IMPROVEMENTS TO ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY
The extent to which assistive technology can improve access and use of Web resources was questioned as the respondents perceived that there was not sufficient will to improve accessibility. The use of binding standards was rejected as it was viewed as unachievable and unworkable, whilst a voluntary code of conduct was seen as more acceptable, but ultimately insufficient to make Web sites more accessible to this technology. There was an overall optimism that the situation would improve as a result of a convergence in interests and awareness and also through the provision of training, supervision and equipment.
ACCESSIBILITY AND WEB PAGE DESIGN
Bad Web page design was identified as a severe problem for blind and inexperienced respondents. It created the most frustration and dissatisfaction as it is easy to solve. A lack of standardised design and layout caused functional difficulties for access technology and conceptual difficulties for the user. A failure to include alternatives to visual and aural cues excluded blind Web users from many resources. The Web often offers too many choices to remember, contributing to a disconcerting experience for these users. Badly designed pages were described as a form of discrimination as they prolonged the search for and retrieval of material and could dissuade the user from making further attempts to use the Web.
GOOD WEB PAGE DESIGN
Good design not only increases the number of sites that visually impaired individuals can access, but it also makes accessing and using sites a more enjoyable experience for blind users. Frustration is reduced and parity increased as access becomes more effective. Good design is not restricted to visible screen elements, but also involves structure, descriptive and informative text labelling, and the use of sophisticated programming languages to integrate visually impaired users with the mainstream.
IMPROVEMENTS FOR WEB PAGE DEISGN
Many of the same sentiments expressed about this issue as were expressed about improvements for assistive technology. The introduction of standards and codes of conduct were seen as incompatible with the ethos of the Web and its creative and individualistic characteristics. Potentially more successful avenues for improvement are the use of sub-surface programming languages that would recognise the use of screen readers and facilitate more effective access and the provision of text-only equivalent pages.
PERCEPTIONS OF BEGINNERS AND COMPETENT WEB USERS
Differences were observed between the perceptions of these two groups for both partially sighted and blind users. The beginners found the Web difficult to comprehend and complex to master. There was also a tendency to assume that the information on the Web was "correct" and to accept it without question. These users could quickly become disillusioned and switch off the computer if their expectations of excitement and participation were frustrated. In contrast, the blind competent users enjoyed their ability to navigate, identify choices and retrieve information successfully. This ability emanated from the possession of a strong mental image of what a Web page is and how it works, combined with a structured and confident approach to information location and retrieval. Significantly, those with more interest in the Web were the most effective and efficient users of the Web, as their use of the Web as a form of relaxation continued to hone their skills and provide new situational stimuli.
PERCEPTIONS OF SATISFACTION AND DISSATISFACTION
These perceptions were primarily differentiated by age and experience. The older respondents, who were also the least experienced, used the Web as a tool and not for pleasure. They viewed it as one of a range of information resources and as they often found it more difficult to use, they did not feel as satisfied as some other visually impaired users. The younger users viewed the Web as an exciting and positive resource because of its capabilities, irrespective of how successful their use was. They were very satisfied with their participation and involvement.
This problem was perceived as one of the major difficulties that hindered effective and efficient access and use of the Web. It was the cause of the most concern and worry amongst the less experienced blind respondents because it was viewed as difficult to identify and recover from, and because the consequences could mean that the access may have to be terminated. The lack of a visual stimulus meant that a mental image of the situation was hard or impossible to achieve, and this lack of awareness was debilitating until sufficient confidence and experience had been amassed to deal effectively with the situation.
A variety of concerns - including the growing amounts of advertising, commercialisation and pornography - provoked strong reactions from the respondents and demonstrate that the visually impaired respondents are an informed and vocal group. Their concerns are based upon the fact that the issues referred to compound the existing problems they already face by increasing the amount of information and choices to select from, as well as causing distress if a wrong action creates an unwanted response.
The objective of this discussion is to provide a series of broadly-based recommendations concerning action that can be taken to further emancipate those within the visually impaired community who aspire to attain effective and efficient Web access and use.
Visually impaired users should have access to Web-based resources through integrated, rather than isolated development as this is the best method of exploiting the value of networked resources. This would be beneficial for all as text-only equivalent pages, for example, would help search engines index resources more effectively and allow all Web users to access the Web from the new generation of technology such as mobile phones and pocket computers. Integrated development is particularly necessary for assistive technology if it is to become more widely used. The inclusive nature of this development means that all sections of society might be engaged and plugged into the Information Society. Guidelines explaining how designers can make their Web pages more accessible to visually impaired users also need to be supported and actively promoted by government and industry.
The development and maintenance of Web resources and assistive enabling technology is not the preserve of any single sector. Responsibility for the development and maintenance of these issues should cross public, private and voluntary sectors to promote and deliver increased awareness and wider accessibility. New models of integration need to be developed if accessibility and participation are to satisfy the demands of, and become features of, future Web access and use. There is a need to foster closer working relationships to encourage broader awareness of the issues discussed in this study, as it is on this foundation that effective progress can be made.
The skills and experience needed to operate in an electronic environment are gradually becoming more widespread within the visually impaired community. There is an important need to increase the awareness of what the Web constitutes, how it works and what it can offer amongst this community. This can be achieved through special training and support which focuses on providing cognitive maps that will enhance the user's - and particularly the blind user's - understanding of the Web. These skills are needed in order to complement existing skills concerning making Web access a more satisfying experience. The ultimate objective is to allow the visually impaired community to locate and use the information they require independently and with the least difficulty.
The Web should reflect the needs of the visually impaired community and seek to close the information gap that exists between the information rich and the information poor. The Web has been demonstrated to be an everyday part of life for some of the visually impaired people who participated in this study, providing equity of access to public information - it should not be a democratising tool only for those with the skills, patience, resources and cognitive ability to benefit from the Web. Similarly, there is a need to ensure that there is a wide range of accessibility options and assistive technologies where users can expect to access and use Web resources.
Visually impaired users have the same range of information needs as everyone else. The challenge of equal access to Web-based information requires inspirational and strategic development to ensure that this digital information resource will continue to enrich the lives of visually impaired Web-users. Services need to be constructed that will extend this franchise to new users in this diverse and distributed community. Elements must be put in place that organise and support methods that offer visually impaired users comfortable and independent access and use of the Web.
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These questions formed the basic outline of the conversational dialogue. The respondents often supported their statements with reasons and examples, but if not, further elucidatory questions, such as "Can you tell me more about that?" or "How do you feel about that?" were asked.
These questions focus on your visual impairment:
Are you partially sighted or blind? When did you lose your sight? Had you learned to read print before you lost your sight? Can you tell me the name of your eyesight condition? Is your vision stable? Can you describe what you can see, if anything at all?
These questions focus on your experience and background:
How long have you been at the College? Did you attend a special school before coming to this College? Can you tell me about your keyboarding skills? Can you tell me about your computing skills? How would you rate your keyboarding and computing skills now?
These questions deal with accessing the Web:
Are you familiar with the concept of the Web? How useful do you find it? Can you describe for me the type of resources you use on the Web? What are your feelings and experiences of accessing the Web? Can you describe for me the level of Web training that you have received at the College? To what extent do you think that this is sufficient? Are there any issues that are important to you that you would like to discuss?
These questions concentrate on the assistive aid(s) that you need for access:
Can you describe the assistive aid(s) you need to help you access the Web? Can you explain how useful, or otherwise, you find the aid(s)? How necessary is the aid(s) in order for you to access the Web? Can you tell me about the limitations of the aid(s)? Can you tell me how you think the aid(s) could be improved? Can you describe to me how commonly found the aid(s) is outside of College? Can you describe how this affects your use of the Web?
These questions focus on your perceptions as a user of the Web:
To what extent do you consider that being visually impaired is a handicap when using the Web? Can you describe for me the Web's importance for you? Can you describe your thoughts on whether the Web allows the visually impaired equity of access to information using this medium as compared to sighted people? How much use would you like to make of the Web? What will happen to the Web as a source of information for you in the future?
These questions aim to establish how you use the Web:
What are your feelings and experiences about using the Web? Can you explain for me how you navigate around on the Web? Can you describe any problems you encounter? How could this be improved? How do you find out about sites? Describe the types of sites that you visit? To what extent do you think that you can use all the options presented on a Web page?
These questions focus on Web page design:
Can you describe what type of Web page design you favour? What type do you dislike? Can you describe the elements that are difficult to use? Are you aware of any elements on a Web page that you are excluded from? Describe the improvements that you would like to see to make Web pages easier to use?
These questions formed the basic outline of the conversational dialogue. The respondents often supported their statements with reasons and examples, but if not, further elucidatory questions, such as "Can you tell me more about that?" or "How do you feel about that?" were asked.
These first questions concentrate on the College and it's Web provision:
Can you describe the College's policy concerning the Web? How much access does the College encourage it's students to have? Describe the training that the students receive? How will the College ensure that the students keep up-to-date with rapid developments in the Web?
These questions focus on the students' use of the Web:
Describe why you think your students use the Web? What would you describe as the benefits and/or limitations of the Web? What type of information resources do your students access? How do you think your students find out about Web sites? How successfully do you think your students use the Web? What are the advantages and/or disadvantages for the visually impaired using the Web?
These questions concentrate on the strengths and weaknesses of the Web as an information resource:
Can you explain how useful and/or valuable you think the students find the Web? To what extent do you think the Web is an appropriate and/or convenient medium? Describe what your students think about using the Web? Can you describe what the significance of the Web is to your students?
These questions focus on access to the Web:
To what extent do you think there is equity of access to the Web? Tell me about your students' access to the Web? How successful or otherwise is your students' access to the Web? Can you describe what steps should be taken to improve access to the Web?
These questions focus on assistive enabling technology:
Tell me about the assistive enabling technology that the College provides? Describe your opinions on this technology? What are the problems with these assistive aids? How can they be improved?
These questions concentrate on Web page design:
To what extent do you think Web pages are well or badly designed? Describe the differences that well and badly designed Web pages make? What type of improvements or facilities would you like to see to make Web pages more accessible? How does Web page design affect a visually impaired person's access and use?
Jonathan Berry, Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield (now at Information Services, Cardiff University). The basis for this study was a masters dissertation undertaken in 1998. I thank those who kindly volunteered to participate in the study and Nigel Ford who was my dissertation supervisor. I also thank Nigel Berry for negotiating access to the students, staff and resources of the Royal National College for the Blind. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jonathan Berry, Information Services, Cardiff University, PO Box 430, Cardiff, CF10 3XT, United Kingdom. Electronic mail may be sent via the Internet to firstname.lastname@example.org.