The problem of non-visual navigation of the information in Excel spreadsheet is that using current technologies no overview is available for the user about different components found in the spreadsheet. Several attributes associated with spreadsheets make them not easy to navigate by individuals who are blind and visually impaired. The large amount of information stored in the spreadsheet, the multi-dimensional nature of the contents found in a spreadsheet, and the several features it includes cannot be readily linearized by a screen reader or Braille display (e.g., charts and tables). People who are blind and visually impaired need to easily navigate spreadsheets to access and analyze data easily. Providing a more accessible non-visual navigation of spreadsheets will help individuals who are blind and visually impaired in getting a better education, will improve their skills, and assist them in entering new careers. A user centered design paradigm is followed to build an accessible system for non-visual navigation of Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The proposed system will provide the user with a hierarchical overview of the navigated components in an Excel spreadsheet. The system is multi-modal, and it provides the user with different navigation and reading modes for the non-visual navigation of a spreadsheet. This will help the users in adapting the way the non-visual navigation is performed according to the task the user needs to accomplish. The Novint Falcon force feedback haptic device and speech synthesizer are used for charts navigation on the system. To navigate other components of an Excel spreadsheet (i.e., tables and formulas) audio speech is utilized. Several user studies have been conducted and the system has been evaluated. The feedback from the user studies resulted in improving the accessibility and usability of the system. Using the proposed system, the users answered questions faster and with more correct responses than when they navigated tables using Braille or navigate charts using tactile paper. The work in this thesis can be used as a set of guidelines when designing non-visual interfaces for graphical or mathematical information. The results from this work can be applied to other users groups requiring non-visual navigation of spreadsheets (e.g. exploring a spreadsheet using mobile phones).

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Thesis Advisor:
Enrico Pontelli

Award Date:
November 1, 2009

New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA

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