Lighthouse International Details LowBrowse

July 14, 2008

While existing programs enable blind people to access the web effectively, LowBrowse is the first program to enable people with moderate or severe low vision to both view web pages as the original web author intended and read the text on those pages tailored to their own visual needs. The highly anticipated program, which runs in conjunction with the Mozilla Firefox browser, will be offered at no charge and is expected to be available to the public for download via the Firefox add-on site in late summer or early fall of 2008.

LowBrowse is part of a larger research project on low vision user interface design headed by Aries Arditi PhD, Senior Fellow in Vision Science at Lighthouse International, under a grant from the National Eye Institute. "This technology enables all the text on a website to be presented in the same readable format - size, color, font and spacing - regardless of which page is being viewed and without having to navigate to the next line," said Arditi, a vision scientist and an expert in web accessibility. Dr. Arditi, who is the current president of the International Society of Low-Vision Research and Rehabilitation, has written more than 80 scientific publications about vision and is the author of Lighthouse International's popular Color Contrast and Making Text Legible publications.

Arditi vision and an added, "LowBrowse emphasizes efficiency and accessibility for the unique needs of people with vision loss. This system further democratizes the Internet and empowers millions of people with low vision."

LowBrowse is important and useful for many reasons:

  • Users spend a few moments configuring their preferences (using a very simple procedure) for font, text size, color contrast and letter spacing. Once the configuration is set, no further adjustments will be needed on any web pages - including pages with photos and graphics.
  • LowBrowse™ makes searching and skimming web pages for specific information much easier than other accessible software.
  • Semantic text features such as "link" color, italics and boldface are preserved in the special reading frame.
  • Users can easily enlarge images simply by holding down a button and wiggling the mouse.
  • Users with severe low vision can use LowBrowse's speech capability .
  • Users can simultaneously view the web page as the web author intended it to be viewed and access the text (in a separate reading frame), enabling visually-impaired users to appreciate the very same view of the page that able-sighted users see.
  • The program performs these functions in a consistent manner for all pages on all websites.
  • The program is very user-friendly, with few commands, making it perfect for computer novices as well as tech-savvy users.
  • The program is portable and can be installed in seconds on a flash drive and downloaded from anywhere.
  • The program will eventually be available in multiple languages.

According to Tara A. Cortes, PhD, RN, President and CEO of Lighthouse International, "As a leader in the field of low vision and as strong advocates for accessible technology, we are very pleased to offer this innovative technology at no charge. Furthermore, as baby boomers age, diseases such as diabetes and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) will affect millions, resulting in vision loss. This new technology will become increasingly relevant." Diabetes affects some 24 million Americans, while macular degeneration affects some nine million. According to a national survey by Lighthouse International, 16.5 million people (or one in six) age 45+ self-report some form of vision impairment even when wearing glasses or contacts. By 2010, this figure will grow to 20 million.

Using open source technology, this browser add-on will be free to users through the Firefox Add-on site. It works with Windows, MacOS and Linux.

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