Two students in Delhi have developed a web tool that can help people with dyslexia and visual impairments access the internet. This is how it works.
Delhi-based teenagers Anand Chowdhary and Nishant Gadihoke have been freelancing as web designers for a few years now. They design and develop websites for clients, individually and as a team. Recently, however, Anand was struck by a new and innovative thought that changed the way he looked at website design.
“All these years I was just making good websites – they were functional and pretty. But I was ignoring a certain section of the population – those living with disabilities and senior citizens who often find it difficult to read. However, it is not practical to add accessibility features on every website individually. So I came up with the idea of developing a Chrome extension that would help everyone access content on the web,” says the 18-year-old.
He shared the idea with his friend Nishant and they decided to develop the extension during the Delhi AngelHack Hackathon, 2016. AngelHack is an organization that conducts hackathons for coders and developers to innovate tech products for diverse categories.
The duo decided to learn more about web accessibility features for people with dyslexia and learning disabilities, discussed suitable colours and fonts, and finally came up with Oswald in June this year. The Chrome extension helps people with dyslexia and visual impairment, as well as senior citizens. Currently, the tool is an add-on for only those web browsers that support extensions from the Chrome Web Store – such as Chrome, Opera, Chromium, etc.
This free and open-source extension changes the entire look of pages across the web, based on the readers’ preferences.
“Every new Oswald user has the option to choose his/her disability or preference to customise the experience. Imagine a student with dyslexia using a tool to access content on Wikipedia, or gaining access to any required piece of information on the internet. This is what Oswald facilitates,” says Anand.
People who can use the app include:
Users with dyslexia:
Anand and Nishant went through the research carried out by the British Dyslexia Association and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to understand how the mind of a person with dyslexia works. These studies provide specific information on the kinds of fonts and patterns that make it easy for people with learning disabilities to read. According to the research, black text on a bright yellow background in a dyslexic-friendly font called Open Dyslexic is useful. Once a person selects dyslexia as the preference, the font and format for all the websites he/she opens in that web browser change. Oswald corrects the typography, contrast ratios, and other visual elements on the web pages to make reading easier. Users can also customize the quality of text based on their personal preferences.
Users with visual impairments:
On selecting visual impairment, Oswald goes into the reading mode. Users just have to press a keyboard shortcut, which is usually easily accessible like the spacebar, and they can hear the entire content on the web page. For people with partial blindness or hypermetropia, everything that is not important disappears from the website. The extension uses an algorithm to find relevant content and everything else – like ads, the navigation bar, etc. – are removed. Oswald reads out the content in a language of the user’s choice.
Senior Citizens: Senior citizens usually have eyesight problems. The extension provides a paragraph during the initial selection. Users have the option to drag and change the font size of the paragraph according to what is comfortable for their eyes. Once they’ve done this, Oswald adjusts the font, font size, letter spacing, line height, etc., for all websites.
For everyone else:
Regular users of the internet can also use Oswald to customize their experience. They can change the font size, reading mode, colour, etc.
Nishant is a student of Class 11 and Anand recently gave his Class 12 board exams. They are in the same school and similar interests brought them together to work on this project. “We are now taking steps to encourage all our previous clients to include accessibility features on their websites. We also plan to go to hospitals that cater to dyslexic people and install Oswald as their go-to-solution on all computers,” says Anand, adding that the duo never wants to convert Oswald into a business. They want the extension to be free so that everyone around the world can use it. They are also working on an Oswald mobile app.
“My grandfather is over 70 years old. He is not even used to computers. But if he can start using computers for easy reading instead of browsing through newspapers, it will be so much better. I don’t want anyone to have to pay for using Oswald,” concludes Anand.
Oswald received an award at the AngelHack competition under the Code4Impact category where participants had to design a technology that can lead to social change. You can download the extension here.
You can download Oswald here.