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Co-design of an Assistive Internet Navigation Device for People with Visual Impairments (VI)


Tomat navigator - A project from: LibreTactile


An overview of the structure of the page helps with navigation and orientation. Webpages visually convey content and structure through formatting and layout. However, when a screen reader user accesses a webpage, the software reads the content one word at a time which fails to convey the natural ordering of webpage elements. Its up to the screen reader user to discriminate and remember the content and the structure at the same time. Visual and aural access to the webpage are fundamentally different. We propose to provide persistent access to the structure of the webpage to aid screen reader users. Using the tactile interface vi internet users can feel the structure while they feel the content. Users will have at their hand an interactive table of contents with the most relevant webpage elements. 7 VI users participated in the development process. This process included interviews, design, validation, and evaluation sessions, and focus groups. The initial concept was refined by the research team before being presented to the participants. Then a 3d printed model of the device was presented to the participants during the codesign session. Malleable lego prototyping tools were used to aid participants to materialize their designs and communicate their ideas. The resulting design was 3d printed and assembled. The prototype was built using widely available materials, like the vibrators usually found on smartphones. The brain of the device is an open source raspberry pico microcontroller. Visually impaired participants required less time, reported less cognitive load, and issued fewer commands to complete the evaluation tasks when using the prototype in combination with their screen reader.


Feedback from the participants was very positive. 


  • “I’ve heard my computer tell me [the heading levels] but it didn't made much sense to me, so you are already making it more understandable.”

  • “...It helps the imagination to have something concrete at hand.”

  • “It helps to create a good mental structure of the webpage, which is very important for how I navigate the internet.”

  • “like a TV remote control, but for navigating the webpage”


We plan to release the design of the device under an open source license to encourage collaboration and derivatives. 

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