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Switch Access to the Internet

Accessing the Internet using switches alone is possible but its ease and practicality depends on the web site you are attempting to access.

Easy Websites with Simple Layouts

Some websites have simple layouts with no need to scroll and few links.

Two Switch Users

These websites are immediately accessible for two switch users using only their switch driver and a standard web browser such as Internet Explorer or Firefox. Mapping the switches to TAB and ENTER allows the links to be scanned through and selected.

Single Switch Users

People who use a single switch to access the computer need their switch driver to automatically progress through the scanning list. I'm not aware of any switch drivers that can accomplish this so instead single switch users may need to consider using specialist access software.

Specialist Access Software

Specialist access software solutions are available to ease access to web browsers and other software. Here are some examples:

The newly developed Hawking Toolbar is a free, open source plugin for the Firefox that makes possible single-switch access to the internet through an autoscan. It also provides group scanning, which makes the process much more efficient, and switch access to page scrolling and the most common browser features, making it useful for two-switch users as well. Read more about the Hawking Toolbar.

The Grid is an advanced on-screen keyboard that sends keyboard commands to the web browser allowing you to scan through links several at a time or scroll up and down the page. In fact, anything that you would be able to accomplish with the keyboard, even a series of keystrokes, can be embedded into a single cell on a switch-accessible grid. A free demo of The Grid is available on CD from Sensory Software External Link.

HotSpots External Link is a mouse emulator that lets you place a series of 'spots' on the screen that can be accessed with a switch. The spots can be scanned in any order using one or more switches and can be enhanced with text, speech or symbols. It's easy for a mouse and keyboard user to create a custom sets of hotspots but making complex sets for many web pages would be very time consuming. A free demo of HotSpots can be downloaded from the ACE Centre website External Link.

Examples of Easy Websites

  • Feed Icons External Link is a website designed to promote the standardisation of feed icons. It is an example of how practical, well-designed mainstream websites can be accessible to switch users.
  • Charlton School StudentZone External Link is specifically designed as a portal for switch users.

Advanced Web Layouts

Most websites use advanced layouts with many links and content scrolling down several screens. These pages can be difficult to access for both single- and two-switch users.

The best solution to access these sorts of site is to use a specialist access program such as The Grid and create a bespoke custom-built grid for each site. That way a grid can provide a simplified and more accessible interface to the complex web page and allow scrolling and other useful commands.

Examples of Advanced Layouts

  • The BBC News website External Link has hundreds of links on each page and most news articles require scrolling.
  • Most articles in Wikipedia External Link also scroll across several screens but they do usually include links at regular intervals, which makes it easier for two-switch scanners to access.

Web 2.0 Accessibility

It is seemingly increasingly likely that in the future all our software will be 'online' as being trail-blazed by Web 2.0 sites such as Writely, Flickr, YouTube and the Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs).

Although the accessibility term is huge in web design at the moment it's more or less to do with complying to W3C standards rather than providing an accessible interface for people. Certainly not much thought is given to switch users. Perhaps future Web applications will be built on a framework that accepts switch access or perhaps new innovative software solutions will allow us to adapt these technologies. I guess we will find out soon enough!

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