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Quarter 7 - October - December 2008

Page history last edited by sambhavic@... 15 years, 2 months ago


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We have hired two developers and have commenced participatory design of the online community website with a few Web users who use screen readers.


We submitted a paper to the 24th annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN 2009 March 16 – 21, 2009) about  our project. We are happy to say that the paper has been accepted. Contents of the paper are reproduced below:







The wide choice of information available online on almost any topic makes it necessary for us to exercise judgment and selection. When we see something interesting or informative, the degree to which it impacts us depends on a degree of trust, or how credible we find it. Credibility perception on the Web has been theorized as involving interplay of objective factors governed by the information producer relating to design and content (source, medium and message) and subjective factors governing the information user (receiver) (Wathen & Burkhell, 2002).


With the Web increasingly becoming a social place, going beyond its focus on information to something much more interactive with a focus on people, there is a need to move beyond models of a solitary information consumer to a more social model that resonates with the more social Web and considers diversity and inclusion as well. Credibility evaluation in this context can be considered as a cumulative, dynamic and social process that is broader than individual credibility perception. 


Online credibility perception by sighted Web users has been reported to be largely influenced by “first impressions” based on visual cues and visual design (Fogg, et al., 2003; Robins and Holmes, 2008). Interestingly, Web users with vision loss (who are totally or legally blind) were not included in these studies, nor have they been mentioned in several other published research reports examining credibility perception on the Web.  The question as to what factors influence online credibility perception by Web users with vision loss has remained unexplored.


Accessing the Web is beneficial to people with vision loss because it facilitates independent living as well as social integration. Hence, online credibility evaluation is as important for them as for sighted users, if not moreso. However, well-documented accessibility issues on the Web, together with new ones presented by social technologies like Web 2.0, pose barriers to access. It is possible that their experiences with Web accessibility impact their online credibility perception and evaluation. Extant research about Web use by people with vision loss has not examined this aspect. 


Research approach

The above situation motivated us to study how people with vision loss who access the Web non-visually using a screen reader (software that converts text into audio or Braille output) perceive and evaluate credibility while using online resources on the Web. Situated within the theoretical framework of Everyday Life Information Seeking (ELIS) , and employing user study methods drawn from the field of Human-Computer Interaction, our research critically examines existing theories in the credibility field, drawing relevant data from Web users with vision loss. Further, using Social Cognitive Theory , it explores the benefits that community engagement could bring to online credibility evaluation. 


Our research thus has two primary aims, one theoretical and one practical:

(i)    to push the boundaries of existing credibility theory in directions that reflect inclusivity as well as current Web trends; and(ii)    to develop a framework that uses social technologies to support online credibility evaluation by screen reader users with vision loss.



We conducted an electronic survey of 60 English-speaking adults with vision loss living in Ontario, Canada who accessed the Web with the help of a screen reader. We sought data about their attitude towards using technology and the Web, their online information practices (including use of related technologies) and their online information assessment experiences. Beginning with the group of survey participants, we are building a large ‘people-base’ of Web users (both sighted and those with vision loss) who are interested in working with us to design and build a solution for supporting online credibility evaluation.



Of the 60 participants in the survey, 56 were totally or legally blind and used a screen reader with speech, 3 had low vision and used screen magnification software with speech, and one was deaf with low vision and used only screen magnification. The survey data presented some interesting trends. Even though our participants were of diverse age, education and expertise, they exhibited surprising uniformity in the technology they used to access the Web (95% used Microsoft Windows, Internet Explorer, and JAWS screen reader), as well as method of finding information (Google search). We do not believe this uniformity to be merely an artifact of our sampling techniques; many social forces, including personal and impersonal recommendations by others, shape technology usage and information practices.


The survey also showed a high degree of Web usage by the participant group (87% used the Web every day). 90% thought that accessing information on the Web was very wise or wise and 93% thought that it was very beneficial or beneficial. However, problems with accessibility of websites interfered with their ability to evaluate credibility besides influencing their credibility perception. Consequently, participants were found relying on each other, sharing experiences and recommendations, and discussing their evaluations of trustworthiness and quality of online information. Communication, Consultation, Collaboration and Corroboration are some of the major themes that emerged on preliminary analysis of survey data. Emails and listservs are online tools primarily used by them for this purpose.


These observations underscore the importance of community for providing contextual information. Thanks to Web 2.0, people can now engage with one another in online communities. However, not surprisingly, not many in the surveyed group used interactive Web 2.0 sites such as blogs, wikis and social networking websites. 16% of them wrote comments on blogs or had their own blog, 20% read wiki websites or had written into wiki websites and 36% were (not-so-active) members of social networking websites. Such low usage was primarily due to accessibility barriers these technologies presented. This led us to consider developing an accessible website using participatory design methods to provide online community support for credibility evaluation.


Work in progress

We are now in the design and implementation phase of the infrastructure, which includes an accessible, interactive website where members of the online community will be able to evaluate, rate and discuss credibility (and related accessibility issues) of websites as well as engage in general conversation around these topics. It will be possible for anyone to add links for the community to rate or evaluate, and discuss. We are also developing supporting tools with and for the community as well, which includes an accessible browser plug-in for rating or inquiring about web pages. In building the website as an accessible forum for social interaction, we are using a participatory design methodology as well as drawing upon existing open source tools built to WAI-ARIA  specifications. A technical team of two experts is building the infrastructure; one of them is a screen reader user who is blind.


The online community and the support infrastructure will be functional and active soon. Combining conversations that emerge on the community space with data from the survey, we will look for themes that challenge and extend current credibility theories. Within this community, we will also examine the representation of self across modalities and the effect this has on acceptance in a social network.



Credibility evaluation is a social process that requires a trusted community and social tools to support it. We are building a framework for online community engagement that will help screen reader users in evaluating the credibility of information they seek online as part of everyday life. In effect, we are expanding the concept of assistive technologies to something beyond software programs for individual use to social technologies that empower people with disabilities through engagement in online communities.


Our project is a part of CulturAll 2.0 Network (http://culturall2.atrc.utoronto.ca), a national multi-sector network funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage and led by the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (http://atrc.utoronto.ca/), developing innovative approaches and tools to ensure that everyone in Canada can participate in Canadian cultural exchange online.



Bandura, A. Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1986.


Fogg, B.J., Soohoo, C., Danielson, D.R., Marable, L., Stanford, J. & Tauber, E.R. (2003b). How do users evaluate the credibility of Web sites? A study with over 2,500 participants. Proceedings of ACM DUX’03, Designing for User Experiences.


Robins, D. & Holmes, J. (2008). Aesthetics and credibility in web design. Information Processing & Management. Volume 44, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 386-399.


Savolainen, R. (1995). Everyday life information seeking: Approaching information seeking in the context of way of life. Library and Information Science Research, 17, 259 – 294.


Wathen, C.N. & Burkell, J. (2002). Believe it or not: Factors influencing credibility on the Web. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 53, 134-144.


Download copy of submission

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