TACTILE SEMANTICS Browsing the internet blind

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This research project is focused on understanding the current needs of blind users in the context of internet browsing. The research methods used have an inclusive design approach. The outcome was intended for both for both the blind and normally sighted.

At the broadest level, this project was about reducing cognitive effort in human to computer interaction. At the next level it is about browsing the internet. Everyone using a computer and surfing the web at some point goes through the mental task of comparing between alternative choices.

Inspiration and Method

More and more as technology invades my life, increasing I feel frustrated by it. Compared to traditional media like books and newspapers reading on-line on most websites is a poorly designed user experience.

As journalist and author Nicholas Carr explains: ‚“The mind of the experienced book reader is a calm mind, not a buzzing one. But, never has there been a medium that, like the internet, that has been programmed to so widely scatter our attention and to do it so insistently.”(Carr, 2011)

Examining today’s obstacles for the blind, what aspects of the experience could we improve? Could we design a better cognitive browsing experience for all users focusing on nonvisual aspects of the user experience? What would it look like, how would it behave and what characteristics would it carry?


The Semantic Scroller is a concept that could be implemented today but actually presupposes the use of some new HTML specifications specifically the adoption of “open” semantic tags. Unlike existing semantic tags like <nav> and <article> which are too context specific, an open framework would enable coders include contextual semantic descriptions where ever necessary.

Tactile Semantics introduces a new physical aspect for the blind Internet browsing scenario. A hand/finger-manipulated scroller has many advantages, over keyboard navigation. A tactile controller gives the user a physical overview of the entire webpage enabling the user to quickly navigate to the beginning, middle and end. In addition, the user can adjust the rate of the information flow, enabling them to browse quickly or slowly depending on their needs. Giving the user the ability to speed up and slow down is akin to a visual designer designing with white space (white space lowers the level of visual cognition).

Finally it should be said that the concept of the Semantic Scroller could be extended to many different interaction paradigms including a slider, a swipe or, even a physical gesture.