Firefox add-on enhances Web for visually impaired

Free tool makes Web surfing easier for those who have low vision but aren’t fully blind

Visually impaired Internet users will find surfing the Web easier with a new Firefox add-on that takes normal Web pages and makes them more accessible to people with low vision.

The add-on, LowBrowse, is the first program enabling people with moderate or severe vision loss to "both view Web pages as the original Web author intended and read the text on those pages tailored to their own visual needs," says program creator Lighthouse International.

Several pre-existing programs allow fully blind people to surf the Web, by reading text and descriptions of images aloud to them. LowBrowse takes a slightly different approach with several features, described by Lighthouse as follows:

  • Users can configure their preferences for font, text size, color contrast and letter spacing, and have their preferences remain consistent for all Web pages.
  • Users can easily enlarge images simply by holding a button and wiggling the mouse.
  • Users with severe low vision can augment LowBrowse's accessibility with speech output.
  • 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 have the same view of the page that able-sighted users see.

LowBrowse is available as a free download at the program's Web site. Firefox users who haven't upgraded to Version 3 must do so in order to use LowBrowse. It will also be available at addons.mozilla.org in coming weeks, Lighthouse says.

Based on open source technology, LowBrowse was developed by Lighthouse with a grant from the National Eye Institute.

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