Audio-only interfaces, facilitated through text-to-speech screen reading software, have been the primary mode of computer interaction for blind and low-vision computer users for more than four decades. During this time, the advances that have made visual interfaces faster and easier to use, from direct manipulation to skeuomorphic design, have not been paralleled in nonvisual computing environments. The screen reader–dependent community is left with no alternatives to engage with our rapidly advancing technological infrastructure. In this article, we describe our efforts to understand the problems that exist with audio-only interfaces. Based on observing screen reader use for 4 months at a computer training school for blind and low-vision adults, we identify three problem areas within audio-only interfaces: ephemerality, linear interaction, and unidirectional communication. We then evaluated a multimodal approach to computer interaction called the Tangible Desktop that addresses these problems by moving semantic information from the auditory to the tactile channel. Our evaluation demonstrated that among novice screen reader users, Tangible Desktop improved task completion times by an average of 6 minutes when compared to traditional audio-only computer systems.
Also see: Mark S. Baldwin, Jennifer Mankoff, Bonnie A. Nardi, Gillian R. Hayes: An Activity Centered Approach to Nonvisual Computer Interaction. ACM Trans. Comput. Hum. Interact. 27(2): 12:1-12:27 (2020)