Enabling Technology


WebFeeler Final Report

Doug Williams

Originally I planned to create a Firefox extension that would push online content to leading Braille translation and embossing software packages. As I learned more about Braille and the translation packages available, I learned that there was a better solution to be created. I stumbled upon the research of the University of Manchester which produced a Braille translation library called BrailleTrans.

BrailleTrans offered everything I needed to offer a holistic solution, rather than a wrapper. It is extensible and fully documented. With BrailleTrans, I was able to create an extension that would offer one command access to Braille; this means both access to translated and embossed content.


After learning of BrailleTrans, I began to shift my attention to pulling the content from online sources. As most web accessible documents are HTML files, I focused my attention to these items. I decided to walk the DOM (Document Object Model) of websites to pull the content to be translated. After this content was generated, I sent the text to the translation library. The returned content would either be sent to an embosser or to the local file system as per the user’s request.


Now that I see the first version of the build, I am interested to see what the community has to offer me by means of feedback. I would like to hear their concerns and praise to better steer development. Webfeeler was developed with two groups of individuals in mind. First and foremost are the blind users that want online content to be embossed for later reference. For this base of users, I created key commands to offer easy access to their embosser. [ALT+F1] and [ALT+F2] will emboss and save webpage contents, respectively. Furthermore, I created alerts for screen readers to capture focus of outbound messages from the Webfeeler backend. For sighted users, I created a toolbar, context menu options, and options to both give access to Webfeeler’s features and create an easy to use interface. I hope these features are used by family members, friends, organizations, and educational institutions to help users with Braille needs. I would like both communities to give me feedback to improve, augment and refine Webfeeler in the future.


Right now Webfeeler is only an alpha release. It’s not perfect and as it stands, it is more or less a technology preview. I have some ideas to make it better. These include:

* Caching is eliminated and source is captured from document service within Firefox

* Feedback implemented from community feedback

* Testing with screen readers

* Better hardware support (USB)

* Refined DOM walking for better content extraction

Open Source

Webfeeler is to be released as Open Source software with lisencing to be determined. BrailleTrans is licensed under the GPL, and therefore it is freely distributable. Therefore, Webfeeler will be released as free software to all users who find it. The project requires Java 1.5.x+ to be installed on the host machine as well as Firefox 1.0+. The free and portible nature of these packages adds to the value of Webfeeler as a solution.


Still to be completed are the topics discussed in the Limitations section above. As with any project, it will always be evolving. I feel that this start is great in that it shows what is possible and it has the ability to get people talking and generating feedback; the future for Webfeeler looks promising and yes still open to innovation.

Initial feedback has been positive. There is call for support for refreshable Braille displays within Webfeeler as this would greatly augment accessibility to the Internet through renewable means. Therefore future development will be geared toward this need.

Webfeeler v1.0a source can be found in src.zip