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By Janet Owens, Susan Keller, Gayle Lamb and Kaye Smith
Equity and Access Research and Development Group.
Have your been looking for an email program that has multiple access features? We have good news! MultiMail is a new email program that will be available in September this year. It's special because it will be accessible for all consumers in the community. We would like to tell you about its development and its features.
Let's take you back a few years to a room at Deakin University. Sitting around a table were some people who worked in the Institute of Disability Studies and in the School of Management Information Systems. Chris, Janet, Susan, Gayle, and Kaye talked about ideas for a new project, one that would include consumers with disabilities and one that would have new, exciting, and truly accessible software. There appeared to be a need for an accessible email program that would be useful for communication generally and for work and educational purposes, too. How about including a word prediction program? This could assist people with spelling messages. Would consumers be interested in this type of software? What features would consumers like or need?
The group of people mentioned above belong to the Equity and Access Research and Development Group at Deakin University. Consulting with consumers with disabilities is a significant activity in all projects we do. Members of our group have completed several projects including the development of the MultiWeb web browser for enhanced access to Internet documents. MultiWeb was originally funded by the Commonwealth Dept. of Health and Family Services (now the Dept. of Family and Community Services) and is currently supported through the AccessAbility Program of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. It is available free to download from http://mis.deakin.edu.au. The site is also accessible through a links on the:
We went to consumers and people who worked with them in Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia to ask about email and accessibility needs and to get feedback on a prototype email program. We received valuable advice. This helped us to develop an email program with word prediction that is easy to customise to suit individual users, does not require the purchase of any additional access software, has features which are similar to MultiWeb, and can be used in a multi-user environment.
This is a summary of the feedback we received:
Literacy problems are a major obstacle to the use of email. Word prediction, spell check and speech synthesis would be important features to aid literacy.
Keep it simple! There is a need to 'support the support person' and provide training. People suggested there is a need for simplicity because consumers may require assistance to prepare email, and people who assist may have no experience using email. Having an 'easy to use' design is important and it was proposed that the email program should include a simple interface with only the most basic requirements, that is, the option to read, write, print and delete mail.
Providing a simple 'getting started' section that describes the steps required to use the program was considered important. It would also be important to include a Help facility that describes in detail the features of MultiMail.
Some people had a concern that some consumers would not have anyone to send email to. People suggested that we include a means of enabling consumers to become members of interest groups that send regular emails, bulletins and newsletters, thereby increasing communication networks.
Feedback indicated that keeping a draft of an email would be important so consumers could save work if they are unable to complete an email message in one sitting. Some pro-forma messages could also be useful for some people.
Well, your feedback was very informative. We have considered all the comments we received and the development of MultiMail reflects this.
In the design of MultiMail we have aimed to produce an email package that, like MultiWeb:
To achieve these aims we decided on an interface design that is like the one used in MultiWeb. The design features a reading area that displays HTML documents (web documents). Like MultiWeb, a button interface is used to provide a large target area for mouse operation and to facilitate scanning.
In order to focus resources on identified areas of need the following MultiMail interfaces have been provided:
The default interface includes buttons for all MultiMail's functions as well as navigational functions such as page up, page down etc.
Click on the thumbnail image opposite to view default interface with word prediction.
This interface is identical to the default interface except it does not include navigational buttons, rather it relies on using the keyboard for these functions.
The touch screen interface is identical to the default interface except that it includes large dialog boxes for messages etc.
It is designed for operation via a user's switch device connected to a switch-adapted mouse. It includes an on-screen scanning keyboard used in conjunction with word prediction for text input. The on-screen keyboard can be configured to display a keyboard arrangement based on efficiency, ABC or modified QWERTY.
To increase the efficiency of scanning a block scan method is incorporated. Like MultiWeb the speed of scanning and the number of scan cycles performed before sleeping is fully customisable.
In response to a need recognised by consumers, the simple interface is designed to provide only the most basic email functions.
MultiMail will also include all the MultiWeb options. These are:
Click on the thumbnail image opposite to view simple interface with large print and word prediction (3 words to list). This option provides large fonts for viewing on screen text and for button captions. It also provides large cursors.
This allows a line of text to be highlighted to assist reading. This option is particularly useful when combined with large print or speech output for users with a print impairment.
Size, colour and placement of the buttons can be adjusted according to individual disability requirements. Buttons can be placed at the top, left, right or bottom of the screen to ensure easy access for users with physical disabilities.
MultiWeb has its own built-in speech synthesis software which operates in conjunction with any standard PC sound card. This provides a low-cost alternative to commercial screen readers.
This option provides audio feedback on the button ready for activation. If using a switch device the button caption is read automatically as the button is scanned.
MultiMail includes a built-in word prediction feature. The following features were identified as important or very important and have been included:
However, consumers will be prompted before an unrecognised word is added to the dictionary as people considered it important that badly spelt words were not added.
Other word prediction features include:
The word list can be ordered by frequency, alphabetically or by word length and the number of words in the list can be customised from 1 to 9.
We're currently working on the email software to make sure it works as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Before we put it on the web for you, we will go back to consumers and those who assist them to get more feedback on the way MultiMail functions. The final product will reflect our best efforts to include the features consumers want, resulting in a truly accessible email program.
Have a look on the website for MultiMail and MultiWeb in September. Remember, MultiMail is downloadable free, thanks to support from the Commonwealth Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts' AccessAbility program.
We will have a online feedback line operating in August if you want to have a sneak preview at MultiMail. Have a look, give it a go, and send us your comments.
The MultiMail email software is now finished and available online at http://www.mis.deakin.edu.au/multiweb/.
For details of training sessions in Queensland, NSW and Victoria contact email@example.com.
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