Web sites are failing visually impaired users – can the Speech Application SDK help?

The BBC has news of an interesting report: Websites 'failing' disabled users

The key finding was that the group worst affected are those with visual impairments, and the article refers to the recent announcement that the British magazine New Statesman is going to be making its web pages available as speech using new software by Texthelp Systems.

The Microsoft Speech Application SDK ought to make it much easier for web developers to create web pages that support visually impaired users through the use of speech. I would like to think that at some point in the future all ASP.NET web developers considered adding speech controls to their pages to support accessibility.

One of our roadblocks right now, however, is that we don't (yet) have an easy web download of our Speech Add-In for Internet Explorer available from the Microsoft web site, and the redistributable that comes with the SDK is rather large (it includes the speech recognition engine, even through it could use the built in engine in Windows XP ).

If you'd be interested in this as a more widely available installer for the Microsoft Speech Add-In, please leave me a comment and I'll make sure it gets passed on to the appropriate people - we're always looking for input to help us evaluate the importance of features like this.

Comments (7)
  1. RichB says:

    Surely the people most needing this feature are the same people who have the problem reading your blog in the first place 🙂

  2. Lol – Good point Rich – although I’m hoping any people interested in developing/publishing more accessible websites might also respond…

  3. I believe that making the browser plugin easier to download is critical to the adoption of speech-enabled web sites/web applications. In addition, I think we as an industry should work to make such a plugin compatible with all known devices used by the visually impaired.

    The main reason behind this is that most developers (if not all) can see their website, so they’re not aware that a problem even exists. Ask them to turn off their monitor and then access their website, maybe even fill out and submit a registration form while they’re at it, and you’ll see a lot more requests for a trimmed-down installer.

    I also think it’s important that Microsoft unbundle the runtime components of the SDK from the design-time components so that a developer can developer speech solutions regardless of their configuration (assuming at least Windows XP home edition). I’ve never had this issue, but I’m thinking that a developer who installs the SDK without IIS installed will not be able to successfully develop solutions.

    I know it’s not your responsibility to ensure that we write our code, but I think you’ll get a better adoption rate if you make these technologies attractive to the programmer hobbyists (professional developers who write code in their spare time as a way to keep up with emerging technologies as well as non-professional programmers who enjoy writing code in their spare time because they miss it).

    Once the hobbyists start working with it, you’ll start to see it in open-source projects as well as everyday sites. Familiarity will breed confidence and more people will begin writing code for it.

    You guys are handling the "top-down" approach to evangelism well, but I’d suggest that your "grass-roots" developers can assist you in a "bottom-up" approach (people like me, for instance).

    I haven’t yet written complex applications with these technologies, but I have been tracking your development since the release of the Microsoft Agent back in 1997. I’ve dabbled with the new stuff, but I ran into issues with XP home (I’ve since upgraded to Pro, but I haven’t gotten to the part of my application that requires IVR/Speech).

    Anyway, good job on the speech server. I look forward to working with these technologies in the future.

  4. Enrico says:

    Right now i’m downloading 200MB sdkbeta3 just to get the speech add-in (and i’ve not a 10Mb connection!)….so yes, an easy web download is needed!

  5. Mahavir says:

    downloading 200MB sdkbeta3 is kinda crazy thing to do 🙂

  6. the Pocket PC Speech Add-in could use an easy download too … instead of having to download Speech Server

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