UWM Research Growth Initiative (RGI)
“Universal Accessibility of Digital Libraries: Design of help mechanisms for blind users.” Iris Xie (PI), Rakesh Babu (Co-PI), and Wooseob Jeong (Co-PI). UWM Research Growth Initiative (RGI) for 2014-2015, $68,992.00, funded. Total Award Value: $125,511.
The global BVI population exceeds 338 million (Orbis, 2021), with 32.2 million residing in the U.S (NFB, 2019). The blind comprises a significant user group that interacts with information retrieval (IR) systems, including digital libraries (DLs), in entirely different ways from sighted users. In this study, a “blind user” refers to an individual who lacks the functional sight to see information presented on a computer screen. For these users, interacting with an IR system is a listening activity. They predominantly rely on text-to-speech software called screen-reader (SR) to interact with computers and the Internet. An SR identifies and interprets textual content on the screen and presents this aurally through a synthetic voice.
The previous literature reveals only glimpses of the problem. It does not provide an in-depth discussion of how and why help-seeking situations arise for blind users in IR systems interaction, nor does it provide insight into their unique cognitions, perceptions and actions. These shortcomings make it difficult for blind users to understand the information conveyed by SR. They need help mechanisms designed specifically to accommodate their unique DL interaction needs, and to assist them in effective IR. The literature gap demands a closer examination of their cognition and behavior in DL interactions.
This proposed study represents the initial phase of a multi-phase project. We examined various help-seeking situations blind users encountered in performing specific search tasks, and the types of help needed to deal with these situations. In addition, we investigate the factors that lead to the help-seeking situations of blind users.
Research question for Study 1
What are the types of help-seeking situations that blind users face in interacting with digital libraries?
Research questions for Study 2
RQ1. What are the top three help-seeking situations that blind users encounter in interacting with a DL?
RQ2. Are there relationships between user, system, task and interaction factors and the top three help-seeking situations?
H(1): There is no significant relationship between user (H1a), system (H1b), task (H1c), or interaction (H1d) fac-tors and the first help-seeking situation.
H(2): There is no significant relationship between user (H2a), system (H2b), task (H2c), or interaction (H2d) fac-tors and the second help-seeking situation.
H(3): There is no significant relationship between user (H3a), system (H3b), task (H3c), or interaction (H3d) fac-tors and the third help-seeking situation.
RQ3. What are the types of factors that are associated with the top three help-seeking situations that blind users encounter in interacting with a DL?
Research questions for Study 3
RQ1. What are the types of orientation tactics that blind and sighted users apply during their initial interactions with a DL?
RQ2. Is there a difference between the blind and sighted group in their application of various types of orientation tactics during their initial interactions with a DL?
RQ3. Is there a difference in applying the top five orientation tactics between the blind and the sighted group during their initial interactions with a DL?
RQ4. What are the types of factors that influence blind and sighted users in using the most frequently applied tactic respectively during their initial interactions with a DL?
Thirty blind subjects were recruited from the Midwest region of the United States. To recruit subjects, fliers were distributed to different regional blind associations. Subjects were required to meet the following requirements: (a) legally blind, (b) 18 years of age or older, (c) use computers non-visually by listening to screen-reader software, (d) have a minimum of 3 years of experience searching for information on the internet, and (e) comfortable with verbalizing one’s thoughts in English. The objective of the recruitment was to find diverse blind subjects. Subjects were invited to the usability lab in an iSchool of a state university. For six subjects who were unable to travel to the university, due to their location, the study was conducted at an off-site meeting space. All off-site procedures were consistent with the procedures applied in the usability lab. Subjects received a $100 gift card upon completion of the study.
American Memory Digital Collections (http://memory. loc.gov/ammem) was selected for the user study mainly because it contains digital collections of interest to blind subjects. It is a national DL, and it includes various types of help features. Subjects were instructed to conduct three search tasks. These tasks represent the three types of typical search tasks that users, including blind users, perform: known-item search, specific information search, and exploratory search. Known-item searching refers to finding an item when a user knows particular information about that item, such as author or title. Specific information searching is to look for exact data or facts. Subject-oriented searching indicates looking for items with common characteristics. The time limitation of the study prevented the inclusion of more task types in this study.
Multiple data collection methods were applied to explore blind users’ search behavior and help-seeking situations. First, subjects completed a questionnaire requesting their demographic information, internet experience, and search skills via email. Second, the researchers solicited subjects’ perceptions of help features and their help-seeking behaviors in using the internet; considering the unique needs of the subjects and collecting in-depth responses, interview was employed to facilitate data collection. subjects were instructed to “think aloud” during the search process. To prepare subjects for thinking aloud, participants received instructions with examples of prompts for verbalizing during the search process. In addition, subjects were allowed 10 minutes to orient and familiarize themselves with the DL and the process of thinking aloud. Morae 3.1 was used to capture subject-DL interaction activities and verbal think-aloud during the information search process. The think-aloud protocol has been widely used in previous usability studies with screen reader subjects. In this study, no subjects complained about thinking aloud during the process of information search. Fourth, after the searches were completed, subjects were interviewed about their interactions with the DL, regarding help-seeking situations encountered, associated factors, help features used, and desired help features. Subjects also provided an overall assessment of the DL and its help features. Interviews and recorded data, which include subjects’ verbalization and screen reader information, were transcribed for data analysis.
Data were analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively. The unit of analysis is each help-seeking situation and associated main-level and sublevel factors that lead to the situation. Based on open coding, types of help-seeking situations that blind users encountered during the search process were identified. While investigating blind users’ help-seeking situations and associated help needs, the researchers also explored the factors that led to different types of help-seeking situations. First, qualitative data were analyzed by using open coding, which is the process of breaking down, examining, comparing, conceptualizing, and categorizing unstructured data. From the open coding, we will identify unique types of help-seeking situations blind users face. Specifically, taxonomies of help-seeking situations and associated help needs were identified, based on the individual help seeking-situations and types of help needs revealed by the search processes of the thirty research subjects. Second, factors associated with blind users’ help-seeking experiences were analyzed by correlation analysis.
Findings from Study 1
The help-seeking situations identified from this study can be classified into two categories: help-seeking situations ate the physical level and help-seeking situations at the cognitive level.
Nine main help-seeking situations at the physical level emerged from the data. They can be further classified into three sub-categories: 1) difficulty in accessing information, 2) difficulty in identifying current status and path,and 3)difficulty in efficiently evaluating information.
Eight main help-seeking situations at the cognitive level were derived from the data. They can be further classified into four sub-categories: 1) confusion about multiple programs and structures, 2) difficulty in understanding information, 3) difficulty in understanding and using digital library features, and 4) avoidance of formats or approaches.
Findings from Study 2
Blind subjects encountered physical and cognitive situations in interacting with digital libraries. 872 unique situations that blind subjects encountered in interacting with digital libraries were identified from the analysis of ninety search sessions. Physical situations refer to problems in accessing, identifying, operating, or perceiving during the search process. Cognitive situations represent problems with understanding, sense-making, or reasoning during the search process. Physical situations consist of four types: (1) difficulty accessing information, (2) difficulty locating information; (3) difficulty refining and limiting collections or results; and (4) difficulty identifying current status or path. Cognitive situations fall into five main types: (1) difficulty evaluating information; (2) difficulty with help; (3) confusion about multiple programs or structures; (4) avoidance of format, approach, or input fields; and (5) difficulty constructing searches.
This paper discussed the factors associated with the top physical and cognitive situations, which were selected based on their frequency of occurrence and their uniqueness in relation to blind subjects. The top physical situations include: 1) difficulty accessing information, 2) difficulty locating information, and 3) difficulty identifying current status or path. The top cognitive situations consist of: 1) difficulty evaluating information, 2) difficulty with help, and 3) confusion about multiple programs or structures.
Associated factors that led to the top situations were also identified. 2,102 factors were observed across all 872 unique situations. In many situations, more than one factor was observed. Thirty-three types of factors that represent four categories emerged: User, System, Task, and Interaction. However, findings indicated that the top physical and cognitive situations were primarily associated with User, System, and Interaction factors. User factors refer to attributes that define a user (e.g., domain, system, assistive technology knowledge). System factors refer to different aspects of digital library design. Task factors include task attributes such as task type or requirements. Interaction factors involve the quantity or type of search results derived from the user-digital library interaction.
Findings from Study 3
The findings reveal seven types of tactics utilized by blind and sighted participants: checking current location (CL), exploring DL structure (ES), performing a search (PS), reading DL information (RI), skimming DL content (SC), exploring DL features (EF), and examining search results (ER).
There was a significant difference between the two user groups in applying various types oftactics,χ2(6,N= 326) = 102.746,p< .01. Results indicate that blind users focused on different types of tactics as their sighted counterparts in their initial interactions in the DL. Mann–Whitney tests were performed to further deter-mine whether there is a significant difference in applying a specific tactic between the two groups (Table 3). Two tactics (CL,RI) are not included because of their low frequency applied by all the participants. A Mann–Whitney test result of ER reveals that the frequency of applying ER was greater for the sighted user group (Mdn = 2,M= 2.11) than for the blind user group (Mdn = 0,M= 0.64),U= 178,p= .00. For EF, a Mann–Whitney U test indicates that there is no significant difference in applying EF between the blind (Mdn = 0,M= 0.46) and the sighted groups (Mdn = 1,M= 0.7),U= 309,p= .19.ForES, the result demonstrates that the frequency of applying ES was greater for the blind (Mdn = 1.5, M= 1.68) than the sighted group (Mdn = 0,M= 0.33),U= 77,p= .00. ForPS, a Mann–Whitney U test indicates that the frequency of applying PS was greater for the sighted group (Mdn = 1,M= 1) than for the blind user group (Mdn = 0,M= 0.29),U= 261,p= .02. Finally, a Mann–Whitney test shows that the frequency of applying SC was greater for the sighted group (Mdn = 3,M= 3.3) than for the blind group (Mdn = 0,M= 0.54),U= 87,p= .00.
Based on the Mann–Whitney results, four tactics showed significant differences between the two groups: ER, ES, PS, and SC. While the most frequently applied tactic by blind users was ES; SC was the most frequently employed by sighted users. Qualitative analysis identified six types of system factors consisting of lack of overview of DL link structure (LS), lack of overview of page composition (PC), lack o foverview of heading structure (HS), lack of overview of page layout (PL), unclear labeling (UL), and unclear affordance of facets (AF) as well as two types of user fac-tors including prior experience (PE) and lack of information retrieval knowledge (RK) behind ES usage.
Implications from Study 1
Design implications for physical situations
Physical situations fell into three sub-categories: difficulty in accessing information; difficulty in identifying current status and path; and difficulty in evaluating information efficiently. The following summarises the results pertinent to situations under each subcategory, along with discussion of design implications.
Difficulty in accessing information
The difficulty in accessing information manifested itself in three ways. First, subjects had difficulty accessing information about the format of an item. They could not readily tell if a document was a picture, text, or scanned image of text. Identifying format of an item is significant because blind users consider graphical information to be for the consumption of sighted users, and typically ignore it. This situation implies that the digital library design did not furnish cues on item format in a manner suitable for screen reader enabled perception and operation in information search. Metadata are necessary to support users to recognise the format, and those metadata should be presented in a column in search results. It is important to ensure that metadata of list items identifies item format and should be readily accessible with a screen reader.
Second, subjects had difficulty in finding text descriptions of images such as a scanned image of a document or pictorial representations. This constitutes a serious impediment as they cannot perceive information embedded in these images. This situation implies two possible errors in digital library design. One, it did not supplement graphical information with non-graphic alternatives (e.g., text description, transcript, audio, etc.) for screen reader users. Two, it did not elucidate the path to available alternatives in a manner appropriate for screen reader enabled perception and operation in information search. Digital libraries should provide clear labels for alternative text. Currently alt text is often gibberish, such as ‘crb220158’. Digital library designers and developers should emphasise alt text that is meaningful or useful for blind users.
Third, subjects had difficulty in recognising pre-existing text in input fields such as the keyword search box. Consequently, irrelevant terms were unintentionally entered into the search query, resulting in a failed search. This situation implies that digital library design did not alert the user of the pre-existing text of the input field in ways appropriate for screen reader enabled perception. This also indicates that digital library design did not warn of consequences of leaving this text on search outcomes in a manner perceptible and understandable non-visually. Digital library systems need to ensure that queries are cleared from the input field after search query execution.
Difficulty in identifying current status and path
The difficulty identifying in current status and path manifested itself in three ways. First, subjects had difficulty identifying their current location on the digital library site. This was particularly evident in cross-page navigation where arrival on a certain page was not apparent. A negative outcome was quitting the digital library site without realising it. This situation points to a failure of digital library design in providing contextual cues and location information in a manner appropriate for screen reader enabled perception in information search. To support users in this type of situation, each digital library page should have: 1) a meaningful page title at the top, followed by descriptive breadcrumb trail; 2) a standard layout, particularly the collection home page; and 3) meaningful headings assigned to different sections to facilitate screen reader navigation.
Second, subjects had difficulty in returning to the home page from the depth of the digital library site. They could not find the “Home” link as expected. This caused frustration. This situation reflects a failure of digital library design to present the Home link with meaningful label in a manner suitable for screen reader enabled perception and operation in information search. This situation also implies that the digital library design did not describe the path to an available Home link in a way appropriate for screen reader enabled perception. In this situation, clear labelling of the link to Home is imperative. Digital library designers should ensure that the Home logo is labelled “Home” in its alt attribute. Along these lines, the digital library can provide noticeable links to a small number of key anchor pages, such as a main browsing page, list of all collections, and help page, which users might frequently need to access from anywhere.
Third, subjects had difficulty recognising a new page following a link activation. This was particularly pronounced on pages that loaded without full and continuous feedback. As explained earlier, blind users recognise a new page using at least two announcements: page loading status and page composition. The page loading status tells if all content has downloaded, while the page composition tells if the page was ready for interaction. The difficulty in recognising a new page implies the digital library design failed to communicate when a link activation brings up the destination page in a manner appropriate for screen reader enabled perception and operation in information search. Digital library design should ensure whether full and continuous feedback of page loading status and downloaded page composition is available to screen reader. It is also worth noting that the lack of feedback about web pages loading is screen reader specific. For the time being, multiple ways have been applied to users to aware the page loading status, such as announcing percentages as the page loads and providing a rising tone if a page is loading slowly.
Difficulty in efficiently evaluating information.
The difficulty in efficient evaluation of information manifested itself in three ways. First, subjects had difficulty finding a specific word or phrase on the digital library page. Blind users typically rely on the Find command to locate words or phrases, and not through skim-reading the content of the page as sighted users do. However, a limiting feature of the Find command is a reliance on exact matching, leaving no room for typographical errors. The difficulty in finding specific words or phrases on a page implies that digital library design did not highlight a typographical error or suggest correct spelling of searched words or phrases in a manner suitable for screen reader enabled perception in information search. Digital library Find functions need to accommodate for spelling errors and use of related terms, not restricted to exact matching.
Second, subjects faced difficulty in finding header information on a page. Header information is relevant on pages that organize content into different sections. It refers to the title assigned to a specific section such as ‘Search Results’. The utility of header information for blind users is comparable, to some extent, to the utility of skim reading for sighted users; it helps gain an overview of information presented on a page. The difficulty finding header information implies possibly two failures of digital library design. First, it did not organize page content into sections in a manner appropriate for screen reader enabled perception and operation in information search. Second, it did not mark section headers in a manner suitable for screen reader enabled perception and navigation in skim-reading a page.
Therefore, it is important to make sure every page is organized into sections with meaningful headings marked for screen reader navigation. Also, standardisation of the use of headers will enhance the usability by enhancing predictability. Moreover, digital library design can provide additional alt text to compliment headings to facilitate users easily navigate information. The alt text will help blind users better understand the overall structure of the page.
Third, subjects had difficulty in quickly accessing relevant information on a page. This difficulty was particularly pronounced when evaluating an item or items list for relevance. Reading with a screen reader happens linearly. This linear reading approach imposes sequential information processing, as opposed to parallel information processing afforded by visual reading. This situation implies that digital library design did not afford filter and skim-reading mechanisms in a manner appropriate for screen-reader-enabled perception and operation in browsing pages for relevant items. To resolve this problem, search results need to be display for blind users as follows: 1) include a meaningful section header marked as Level 1 heading; 2) grid view is easily switched to list view; 3) each result has a meaningful title marked as Level 2 heading; 4) associated metadata is sufficiently detailed to include subject classification.
Design implications for cognitive situations
Cognitive situations fell into four sub-categories: confusion about multiple programs and structures; difficulty understanding information; difficulty understanding or using digital library features; and avoidance of specific formats or approaches. The following summarises the results pertinent to situations under each sub-category, along with discussion of design implications.
Confusion about multiple programs and structure
The confusion about multiple programs and structures manifested itself in two ways. First, subjects got confused in simultaneous interaction with multiple programs including the Web browser, the digital library site, and the screen reader dialogues. This significantly increased the amount of information and interactions to be processed simultaneously. Apparently, this blurred the boundaries between applications, making the selection of appropriate commands difficult. This situation reflects a failure of digital library design to clearly identify various programs in the mix for non-visual cognition. To enable users distinguish different applications more clearly, the system can provide different tones or voices for different programs. Also, we can make screen reader quickly read the name of the application when users switching programs.
Second, subjects could not make sense of a digital library structure, such as sections of a page, categories to browse, and how search results were organized. The fact that they perceived only a snippet of information at a given time made logically understanding page or site structure challenging. This ambiguity created confusion and disorientation in the information search process. This situation reflects a failure of digital library design to communicate relevant structure information in a manner appropriate for non-visual cognition for effective navigation and interaction. Therefore, detailed header information about page layout is imperative, and the screen reader needs to continuously provide information about the current section in a page. Standardisation is also important. Standardisation of collection home and resource page layout would reduce confusion and enable users more easily to predict what will appear next.
Difficulty in understanding information
The difficulty in understanding information manifested itself in two ways. First, subjects had difficulty recognising a hyperlink or an item without a meaningful label. While some subjects kept guessing the utility of the poorly labelled object, others did not bother exploring its relevance. This situation implies two possible errors in digital library design. First, it may have failed to present an object for screen reader enabled perception and operation. Second, it may have failed to expose its affordances and expected response to actions in a manner consistent with non-visual cognition in information search. This implies labels should be clear and self-explanatory. Consistent labelling can also help blind users to better understand labels across pages in a digital library. In addition, digital libraries can provide further information about labels upon users’ request, such as longer description and meta-information hidden behind labels.
Second, subjects had difficulty in understanding help information furnished by the digital library. Two kinds of such ‘not so helpful’ help information observed were (1) error message following failed search, and (2) ‘Search Help’ page guidance. In the first kind of situation, subjects could not understand the reasons for the failed search, and did not receive any guidance on overcoming the failure. This implies two possible problems in digital library design. First, it did not explain the reason of the failed search in a manner conducive to non-visual cognition. Second, it did not communicate to bind users regarding how to recover from the failure in ways that suit non-visual cognition. In the second kind of situation, subjects did not find the instructions on the ‘search help’ page catered to their needs and challenges. The help information was of generic nature, and therefore not helpful enough. This implies digital library design failed to offer more specific guidance tailored to the needs and challenges of screen-reader-mediated interactions. Task-specific help that describes structure of task environment could be certainly useful to blind users. In this case, the ‘special help for blind users’ would ideally be context sensitive.
Difficulty in understanding and using digital library features
The difficulty in understanding or using digital library features manifested itself in two ways. First, subjects had difficulty understanding how to use complex digital library functions such as advanced search. Two complex functions are worth mentioning. The first is a search functionality that combined browsing and keyword search functions that subjects could not figure out how to use. The second was the bibliographic record search, the purpose of which was not apparent for subjects. They were reluctant to use it, because they were unsure what to expect from a search. This confusion and intimidation of complex functions implies digital library design did not present component parts, corresponding utilities, and expected outcomes of use appropriately for non-visual cognition. In addition, step-by-step instruction on using the function with screen reader can be a compelling aid. It is clear that blind users and sighted users experience different help-seeking situations. While sighted users normally encounter query formulation and query formulation related help-seeking situations that require advanced search features (Hu et al., 2013; Kim, 2006; Savenkov and Agichtein, 2014; Zeng et al., 2006), blind users have more help-seeking situations related to access and understanding, such as access and understanding basic and advanced searching and browsing functions.
Second, subjects faced difficulty in understanding the criterion for organising search results. This situation was particularly prevalent in known item searching where subjects could not tell if the results were ordered alphabetically, chronologically, or using some other criterion. This situation implies that the digital library design failed to clearly specify the criterion for organising search results in a manner suitable for non-visual cognition in information search. To help blind users to clearly understand organisation criteria, the search result should be supplemented with the followings: 1) text describing sorting criteria applied; 2) self-explanatory sorting criteria; and 3) step-by-step instruction to select different sorting criteria with screen reader.
Avoidance of a specific type of format or approach
The avoidance of specific formats or approaches was shown in two ways. First, subjects avoided visual items such as images and videos. Often, they did not even bother to look for non-visual alternative (e.g., transcript of videos and text description of images). Their perception was they were not worth the effort since visual items require sight. This situation reflects two possible failures of digital library design: failing to provide non-visual alternatives (in text or audio) to visual items and failing to provide the path to any available non-visual alternatives. A real problem here is that blind users avoid resources, even if they only think the resource might be visual. Clearer metadata, as well as display of format information in the search results lists, would help reduce this problem. To encourage blind users to explore visual items, thorough alternative text and detailed description for a visual item should be provided. Metadata elements tailored to blind users would be ideal.
Second, subjects avoided applying the browsing approach in interacting with the digital library. Instead, they relied on keyword search as much as possible. They perceived browsing through categories as time-consuming, cumbersome, inefficient and overwhelming, a method that involves uncertainty and too much listening. This reflects a lack of an accurate mental model for browsing a collection for relevant information. It implies digital library browsing function design does not conform to non-visual cognition and decision-making. Digital library design needs to provide self-explanatory browsing categories and semantic relationships amongst those categories to guide blind users to adopt browsing strategies.
In summary, the identification of seventeen help-seeking situations identified a gap between current design practices and the needs and behaviour of blind digital library users. The digital library design implications correspond to blind users’ unique perceptions, actions and cognitions in information search. Suggested design improvements must be experimentally validated from blind users before they become good practices, design principles and standards for blind-minded digital libraries.
Implications from Study 2
Design Implications for Reducing Help-Seeking Situations Associated With User Factors
Inadequate knowledge related to DL systems, assistive technology, and domain represent important User sublevel factors influencing diverse situations. DL design needs to incorporate designs or features that enhance blind users’ knowledge structures. Inadequate System Knowledge created difficulty for blind users in understanding the DL site structure, information organization, information evaluation, and functions of available features. Inadequate System Knowledge can be supported through instructional and con-textual features, such as an inclusive demo or tutorial about the DL, or by providing context-sensitive help. By providing an overview of features available in the DL, the user will be able to create a mental model of the DL site structure and features (Leuthold et al., 2008). This tutorial should be categorized by types of features supporting different types of search (e.g., Keyword search, Browse), and outline the structure of the site, considering sighted as well as nonvisual needs. The tutorial should be accessible from all pages. Moreover, this tutorial should include well-structured instruction on how to use the DL, with an explanation of how the site and collections are structured, including facilities designating global structures and local structures that offer flexible pathways (Chen & Macredie, 2010). Step-by-step instruction on navigating the DL with the screen reader also can be a compelling aid. Inadequate Domain Knowledge requires help understanding specialized terminology, formulating search queries, interpreting search results, and accessing instruction systems. Possible help features for users unfamiliar with specialized terminology could include provision of meaningful explanations either via contextual clues, Alt Text, or accompanying text. Help in formulating search queries and interpreting search results may be provided via natural language interfaces and search aids. Inadequate Assistive Technology Knowledge is another important User sublevel factor behind blind users’ situations.It created difficulty determining appropriate screen-reader commands for effective accessing, navigating, and evaluating information. Possible help features to address such situaions include three kinds of navigational aids suitable for screen-reader access: (a) tips for screen-readers regarding access of information in the DL; (b) section titles coded for heading navigation, providing direct access to section titles using the H shortcut; (c) direct access to relevant content on the page (e.g., Skip links to the search results section). Such features will help users avoid listening to irrelevant information on a page before accessing relevant content (Chandra-shekar, 2010; Vigo & Harper, 2014).
Design Implications for Reducing Help-Seeking Situations Associated With System Factors
Unclear Labeling is a key System sublevel factor associated with various situations. To reduce situations, descriptive unambiguous and consistent labels to previous pages, home-pages, and search results pages need to be prominently placed for blind users to facilitate recognition and simplify exploration, easing their cognitive load in questioning the meaning of labels (Andronico et al., 2006; Lazar et al.,2012). As an enhancement, lengthier descriptions or alt-tags provide blind users with meta-information, where context might typically be lost (Lazar et al., 2007). Clear terminology and good interface design enable users to more easily interact with DLs (Power et al., 2012). These navigational labels should provide clues to the user to understand differences between DL navigational areas. Complex Information Presentation is the second critical System sublevel factor behind multiple situations. It reflects structural and information architecture problems, and creates difficulty for users to navigate and browse (Borodin et al.,2010; Vigo & Harper, 2014). Complex Information Presentation also causes problems for subjects to make evaluative judgments, distinguish useful from irrelevant information, or understand how to navigate through complex structures. Simultaneously, DL design needs to offer direct links to assist users skipping over unnecessary, irrelevant content, or text previously visited. Because DLs offer complex meta-data, one recommendation is to provide context-sensitive metadata. Most important, blind users need direct access to alternative text resources in DLs, as images and graphics are typically avoided. Restructuring of data structures and meta-data can also assist in improving information presentation (Kovacs & Takacs, 2014). Developing a simple interface with minimal graphics, hyperlinking, and tabulation will help to reduce information overload (Kumar & Sanaman,2015). Most important, the DL structure and its functions, including help mechanisms, need to be designed to assist blind users to make sense of them. The third System sublevel factor, Unintuitive Features, reveals that the DL failed to present component parts, corresponding utilities, and expected outcomes of using a feature. The design of system features needs to be simple and usable because blind users tend to avoid rich, dynamic, and interactive content (Borodin et al., 2010). Blind users need to be aware of how the features relate to one another and how to activate features with screen readers (Leuthold et al., 2008). Context-sensitive help that are readable by a screen reader must be provided, and instruct on what the feature consists of, how to enter and use the feature, and how to activate the feature. The fourth System sublevel factor is Insufficient Feed-back. Design implications related to Insufficient Feedback consist of creating help features offering clear feedback, such as search suggestions, including query autofill features. Search boxes should automatically be cleared upon search activation; existing text in the search box should prompt the screen reader with a notification, as blind users may not receive adequate clues from the screen reader regarding existing text in a search box. Clear and instructional feed-back for all errors should also be provided. Offering contextual information for search results, collections, or subject organization criteria is critical for the fifth System factor, Lack of Contextual Information.
Design Implications for Reducing Help-Seeking Situations Associated With Interaction Factors Designers from the DL perspective should provide additional assistance to help blind users recover from failures (Vigo & Harper, 2014) by suggesting that users try an alternate approach or a different strategy. For users who receive Irrelevant or Confusing Results, design implications include providing more context for search results, such as descriptive snippets of text with relevant key terms that identify why items appear in the search results. This implication is especially pertinent to DLs, which may generate results in a folder format where the folder name is vague and nonspecific, and the item is embedded within the folder. The DL design implications discussed above correspond to blind users’ unique perceptions, actions, and cognitions in information search. It is important to experimentally validate these design improvements with blind users before they become design principles and standards for accessible and usable DLs.
Implications from Study 3
Unlike the medical and social models, the gap model of disability intends to bridge the gap between individuals’ abilities and societal and institutional demands (Grue, 2011; Shakespeare, 2004; Tøssebro, 2004). The results of this study not only identify the gap between DL design and the needs of blind users but also yield important practical implications. Knowledge about preferred tactics helps researchers accurately understand user needs in orientating within a DL. Conversely, knowledge about the associated factors can assist designers in improving DL design to attract blind users to use DLs. Here we discuss the practical implications of the tactic most frequently applied by blind users—ES—and the top four factors that motivate the choice of this tactic. LS was identified as a critical factor associated with ES. To assist in exploration, three design strategies might be useful. First, every link should have a meaningful label that clarifies its destination. Second, links that serve similar purposes should be collocated in a clearly delineated part of a DL page. Third, a help feature should trigger screen readers to verbalize a summary of the link structure. These features would likely assist blind users in identifying different categories of links and their relative location on the page, and in determining how to directly access a relevant link. Another important factor that influenced the choice of ES was PC. Our findings imply that gaining an over-view of a DL page composition is not a straightforward task for blind, first-time DL users. Due to the linear information processing imposed by nonvisual interaction, a blind user is likely to spend extra effort in acquiring this information. To assist blind, a useful design strategy could be to provide a help feature that triggers screen readers to verbalize a summary of page composition: page title, section titles, text content, links, form elements, images, videos, etc. that make up a DL homepage, and their general ordering. The third factor behind the application of ES was HS. A heading structure represents how content is partitioned into sections, topic(s) covered in each section, and their relative locations. Three design strategies might be useful. First, divide DL home page content into logical sections, each revolving around a relevant theme. Second, assign a concise but meaningful title that embeds a heading tag. Third, adda help feature on the home page to trigger the screen reader to verbalize a summary of the heading structure.PL was the fourth factor that motivated ES. Findings related to page layout imply that locating and recognizing two-dimensional information objects may be quite challenging for a first-time blind user. To help them acquire this knowledge, a useful design could be to offer a help feature that triggers the screen reader to announce an outline of two-dimensional information items available on the DL home page, the names of associated attributes, and shortcut (if any) to a specific two-dimensional information item. This measure is likely to help blind users in gaining necessary orientation information, such as how many columns a table has, or where a given link is located within the page relative to another.
Xie, I., Babu, R., Joo, S. & Fuller, P. (2015). Using digital libraries non-visually: understanding the help seeking situations of blind users. Information Research, 20(2), paper 673. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/20-2/paper673.html
Xie, I., Babu, R., Castillo, M. & Han, H. (2018) Identification of factors associated with blind users’ help-seeking situations in interacting with digital libraries. Journal of the American Association for Information Science and Technology, 69(4), 514-527.
Xie, I., Babu, R., Lee, H. S., Wang, S., & Lee, T. H. (2021). Orientation tactics and associated factors in the digital library environment: comparison between blind and sighted users. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology,72(8), 995–1010.
Xie, I., Babu, R., Lee, T., Shengang, W., Lee, H. (2020). Tactics applied by blind and sighted users: Initial exploration of a digital library. Proceedings of Joint Conference on Digital Libraries 2020. Wuhan, China: ACM.
Xie, I. (2017). Keynote speaker. Support Accessibility, Usability, and Utility: An investigation of blind and visually impaired users’ interaction with digital Libraries. Presented at iConference Workshop 2017: Vulnerable Communities in the Digital Age: Advancing Research and Exploring Collaborations, Wuhan, China.