Blind users experience the Internet
In this case study Vanessa Evers and Hans Hillen from the University of Amsterdam discuss the redesign of a website's information architecture to provide audio navigation to assist blind users. This study is motivated by previous studies on Internet use with blind participants, which indicate that even with the help of screen readers such as JAWS and Window-eyes, blind users have more difficulty accessing the information on the Internet than seeing users. However, findings by Berry (1999) and others also suggest that blind users feel empowered by the Internet because it allows them to access information even though the linear nature of navigation caused blind users to spend considerable time browsing a web page before deciding on their next action.
Three research questions were asked in this study. First, how do blind users navigate websites? The findings show that blind users adopt different approaches during navigation to compensate for lack of accessibility in web design. Successful blind user navigation depends mostly on the availability of clear landmarks to guide navigation. The second question addressed the problems blind users encounter. Blind users were hindered most by cognitive overload and incomprehensible descriptions. The third question asked whether a high-level representation of a website's information architecture with audio navigation would support blind users well. The findings indicate that blind users do not become aware of the structure of entire websites but focus on identifying landmarks. Once these landmarks have been identified, and a goal achieved, the mental image the user has constructed of the website is limited to the landmarks to reach a particular goal.
The screen below is from a Dutch website, http://www.aktiebenin.nl, which was used in this research for navigation tasks by one of the blind participants.