Web@ssist: Bringing the World Wide Web to the Disabled and Aged


Web@ssist is a package of an accessibility toolbar and cloud based tools designed to help the disabled/aged interact with the web and eliminate their problems pertaining to internet accessibility. It is an unconventional solution that can modify any website according to the personal needs of the users so they can continue interacting with the web naturally.The solution empowers the differently abled users to use the internet as per their personal preferences and allows them to access the web on any terminal, be it at the office, home, library, lab or classroom.

Exclusively to YourStory.in, Harpreet Singh tells us more about his project.

Harpreet, please tell our readers how the entire process works.

The disabled most commonly make use of a variety of tools and techniques to mediate their access to the internet, depending on their differing abilities. People with visual impairments use screen readers/magnifiers and the mobility impaired use alternative input mechanisms etc. For the disabled to have access to websites, the websites should be designed conforming to the web standards for the assistive technology (AT) devices to render basic structural elements of the web page. But most of the websites are not designed keeping inclusivity in view and with internet proliferation, an increasingly greater number of people, to the tune of 1 billion, worldwide are getting affected by the inaccessibility of websites.

Web@ssist, on the other hand, furnishes a highly portable browser-independent toolbar through which  users can fix-on their preferences for viewing a website. Underneath the toolbar is an all-embracing cloud computing framework, through which any kind of AT solution can be deployed off-the-shelf. With the additional power imparted to the solution to use the already available AT tools on the web, users are able to build up a profile with their personal AT tools on the profile administration site, after which, websites are rendered according the personal preferences of the users.

The software is free of any hardware, and works automatically to adjust the accessibility variables of websites such as fonts, contrast, speech, alternative input mechanisms etc. As an example, a visually impaired user can get a high-contrast text or a dexterity impaired user can opt for an alternative input mechanism on the same webpage.

With the incorporation of these techniques on the cloud itself, Web@ssist envisions to stride towards a truly inclusive web.

So how did you come about this idea and when was it launched?

The inspiration for the solution surfaced when I came face to face with a visually impaired desktop user at a colloquium, and got apprised of the problems faced by differently abled people on the web.

Even as our team started conducting prefatory requirement analysis for the solution, we became conscious about the huge number being affected because of the ineffective solutions on the web, specific machine dependence and a great deal of need of a solution to resolve the same.

Gathering all the demand survey results, we froze our problem statement a year ago, and started to vie for a solution. The chief reasons identified for the lack of web accessibility were a dearth of concern and awareness, additional costs and the disparate needs of users.

The first proof of our concept took shape in January, 2011. This was further refined to become a polished product. Finally, the beta version of our product was out for trials on August 31, 2011.

How has the response been so far?

Web@ssist has drawn a lot of attention in the accessibility space and has received promising reviews about the products from accessibility specialists. We have also received acclaimed testimonials from some of the most popular web scientists of the world.More than gathering eyeballs, the disabled use Web@ssist for their daily tasks while browsing the web.

With the recent implementations, we have come across people who are using it to collaborate with friends, access research papers and browse through e-commerce websites. There is an increasing demand to expand the scope by deploying more extensions in Web@ssist so as to target a broader spectrum of individuals and with a stock of all the encouraging comments, the team is eagerly looking forward to it.

Who are the various stakeholders involved in the process and what are their benefits?

The primary stakeholders are in the community, wherein the disabled can get unprecedented access to opportunities and a more inclusive environment. Then there are the commercial businesses/AT firms, which can get a worthy and befitting entrance into the untapped population. Mainstream technology companies are also stakeholders in this process, where servicing and product companies can continue designing their products as they are being designed, just by developing some augmented extensions in Web@ssist.

Do you monetize? What’s your revenue model?

Web accessibility has a proven and demonstrated business case to attract more audiences, revenues, page rankings and reducing legal complications for online businesses and websites. In addition, there are 'silver-surfers' to be tapped for e-commerce who have money at their disposal. Web@ssist has uniquely coupled sustainable business recourse for providing solutions to organizations as part of the appealing web accessibility case.

Individual users are priced for subscription terms whereas Bulk/Commercial places have a license tariff for usage and further, in the offing is a marketplace for imminent development.

So how does it feel to be an NSIH Winner?

Getting the award at the centre stage, among the country's top IT leadership is the biggest trophy one can imagine to receive. Not only this, NSIH has also provided us the ideal chance to get feedback from a distinguished jury throughout the competition.

How do you think NSIH will make a difference in your growth?

The NSIH award has provided us with visibility and an excellent network for opportunities. These are the factors that will strengthen and ensure the sustainability of our venture.


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