How can the Non-Visual Browsers help a visually impaired to surf the internet?


When the entire world is continuously reshaping because of the advent of the Internet, there are some people who are facing it hard to cope up with the speeding world. The students who can easily handle the world wide web are getting the advantage of it but those who cannot are continuously lagged behind.

The sufferers are the visually impaired or handicapped persons who are incapable of using the computer or any internet enabled gadgets.  The social and professional integration of them is continuously hampered because of this inability. 


The Formation of a Non-Visual Browser:

The BraileNet Project:

Keeping in mind this barrier of the visually impaired persons the BraileNet Project was created in 1996. The main aim of this project was to promote the use of the Internet in the France education system of the visually handicapped which includes schools, colleges, universities, user organizations, industrial companies and research laboratories.

During the first year of this project, since the month of the September (1996), the main achievements it had gained were the creation of a really useful Website, and the set up off an educational network for giving the impaired students a better solution for using the internet.

The target Audience of BraileNet Project:

The main target of BraileNet Project were the students who had at least a low level of computer literacy and/or the knowledge of assistive technology. Also, the project aimed at the primary and secondary school students.


Why the visually impaired students need a non-visual browser?

In the early year of 1997, the observations related to the access solutions which was affiliated with the network of BraileNet utilized in the different schools were made accomplished through the discussions with the teachers.

The first study of the BraileNet project revealed that the use of windows access software with the standard browser significantly generated a barrier which had several consequences including, long learning time and heavy mental load on any user.

So, it was clear that the visually impaired students need to learn, understand and master the entire process with the help of the non-visual peripherals that were Braille and speech.

The study showed that the students who were visually handicapped need to learn the below things:

  • The general principle of graphic Interface of Windows.
  • How does a standard browser work?
  • The specific interface of the browser.

In this way, it was hypothesized effortlessly that the visually handicapped students need a browsing solution that would solely concentrate on the basic functions which will involve:

  • Reading of an HTML page,
  • Easy navigating within a hypertext document
  • Performing the other few associated operations, like recording bookmarks or saving pages.

Hence, it was determined that a non-visual browser will be very helpful for the visually impaired students.


Current Popular options of non-visual browsers available in the market

1. BrailleSurf Browser:

The BraileNet project was implemented in the BrailleSurf non-visual browser. It was earlier developed in the Windows 95 and the Windows NT using the engineering concepts which was proposed by the ActiveX technology.


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How does BraileNet Work?

There are four main software modules through which BrailleSurf has been built. The first one is the Customization Interface that allows a visually impaired to choose from options according to his hardware configuration and also to his preferences.

It is possible to use several Braille bars along with the synthesizers available on the European market. The second is the downloader module which sends the request to the Web server by using the HTTP protocol.


It also has the ability to load HTML files from a hard disk, a diskette or a CD-ROM. The third one is the HTML Filter module which processes and prepare the source documents before their presentation in Braille, speech or in any large print display.

After that, the adapted documents are passed to the User Interface which is the fourth module via which the individual can easily read the document and also interact with it.

The BrailleSurf software can be downloaded for free. One can download it from here 


2. CSurf Non-Visual Browser:

Individuals with no visual disability can easily segment and select the specific topics they want to read on a web page whereas the visually impaired cannot do that easily with a screen-reader.

This downfall of the screen-readers generates information overload which is completely unnecessary. As the screen-readers process the pages in a sequence it is impossible to avoid those which are unimportant. Naturally, the web browsing will be very strenuous and time-consuming for the individuals with visual disabilities.

Though the use of shortcuts and searching may offer some solution but the problem remains as it is, which is why the Csurf Non-Visual Browser is a better choice as it accesses the web by using the notion context.


How does Csurf work?

Csurf although offers the same features like the screen-readers but when a visually impaired user follows a link, this non-visual browser captures the context of the link which is done by using a simple topic boundary detection technique.

After capturing the context of the link, with the help of a Support Vector Machine which is a statistical machine-learning model it uses it to identify the relevant information on the next page.

Next, Csurf starts reading only those sections of the web page which are the most relevant to the context identified by it earlier.

Naturally using of Csurf will eventually help in saving effort and time for the visually impaired individuals.


3. The HearSay Non-Visual Browser:

Hearsay was also developed at the Stony Brook University in collaboration with the Hellen Keller Services for the Blind realizing the downfall of the screen readers in Hempstead, NY.

Their goal is to develop new technologies which will meet the needs of the visually challenged people and provide them with an easier access to information.


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How does HearSay work?

According to the developers, HearSay has a flexible dialog interface and unique context-directed browsing which is not used by any existing screen readers that is why HearSay is an advanced platform and suitable for the visually handicapped individuals.

HearSay is written entirely in Java and a free open source multi-platform browser. It usually takes the help of the Mozilla Web Browser to get access to the internet and perform the standard browsing functionalities.

The freely available FreeTTS text-to-speech engine along with the Sphinx speech recognition engine is used in HearSay. The best part of this browser that it can be easily extended with new engines and it supports high-quality, and affordable commercial voices developed by Cepstral. It targets both blind and visually impaired individuals.



About The Author: Hi! I am Neelam Y. I am passionate about research and technology. Whether it is website designing/development, content writing or internet marketing; I have a solid track record of delivering utmost satisfaction to my clients.