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Indiana University

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Opera Evaluation

Rosie Van Loh,
July 2005

Overview

The new version of the Opera Browser is a really solid and up-to-date browser for sighted users. I think in this case that it is a great browser to use and recommend. It has a layout that is easy to use for visual learners, is organized, and the browser has many useful settings and features that I think make it worthwhile as a browser choice. Definitely for our sighted clients I think that Opera would be a very worthwhile choice as an Internet browser. Still, as far as being accessible to low-vision and blind users, it does not really compete with other browsers and screen readers on the market.

Features and Evaluation

Sighted Users

I think that this browser has lots of useful options and could be very useful to our clients. There are many features that can be turned on and off. I think that this is the most important feature that this browser has to offer its user. Unlike other browsers there is the option to enable and disable the majority of the tools. Everything can be customized so that the user can decide upon the features they want or don't want to use. So, one user can have a very simple and somewhat bare-boned browser, and another user can have a very detailed and customized browser. This all just depends on the user's wants and desires. I think that it is well organized and accurate when viewing pages. The majority of the features of the program allow the user the ability to turn them on or off. Still, the browser arranges everything into a hierarchical structure that is very clear for the user. I am not sure that this is the same for blind users. I am still working on getting more opinions from a non-sighted individual.

Another aspect of this browser that I really like is its clarity and ease of use. It is very easy to navigate, detailed and organized for sighted individuals. Again, this is mainly for sighted individuals; I am still trying to find out more information from some non-sighted clients. The tasks and options are very clear and straightforward. This is great because you can change or adapt your settings at any time. But, regardless of what features you choose to use, the browser still keeps the same hierarchical order to the pages and the same structure.

In addition, another feature of this program is the hotclicks that it has for the user. The menu is easy to access by right-clicking, and drop down menus appear. With this feature the browser shows consistency and continuity throughout the program. The list is long and covers a wide variety of areas which is good.

One of the features that I think might be particularly appealing to our non-sighted or low vision users is the voice control system. This part of the browser allows a user to navigate it through voice commands and then creates speech from text in web pages. The Opera voice commands would seem to be very useful to low vision and blind users. I have gone through them and they seem to be very thorough and cover the wide range of tasks that would be needed by this type of user. I am trying to test this feature to see if a blind user would have as much success as I am think that they would.

There are instructions that layout the usage of the voice commands. They are very thorough and range from instructions from "Navigating a Page" to "Reading within a Panel."

The help menus are detailed and provide important information. The browser also offers access to newsfeeds, mail, and chat sources. I think that this browser is innovative and can be a competitive choice among our various clients.

Other special features of Opera include: Quick Preferences, Voice features, Note features, Session features, and more. I really liked the concept of the Session feature because this feature allows you to save a collection of open pages as a session that it will remember the next time you log in or it can just save them for retrieval at a later date. I also thought that the Note features were good because notes can be kept in conjunction with a website that you are viewing for use with that site currently or later. These features are great tools for students to utilize. These are just a few features of the browser that I think are outstanding.

The security and privacy of the browser were helpful as well, and I think that this would be a useful choice. There is a feature of this browser that allows you to erase privacy information at the end of each Opera session. This is a much needed feature that would really benefit any and all users. The security features of this browser are really up to date and work to the real benefit of the user.

Low-vision and Blind Users

As far as Accessibility goes, I think that this version of Opera is also caught up with the other leading browsers. The Zoom feature makes it so that the contents of a web page can be zoomed from 20%-100%. Along with this the text size and colors can be changed; this includes text color and background color. The most important Accessibility features are the User Styles Sheets. Opera has a set of style sheets built in. This includes an accessibility style that can override any web site's style set in order to make it more useful to the reader.

In terms of accessibility, I think that much of what the makers of Opera and others in these types of dialog all usually have different definitions of what the term "accessibility" means. Opera is accessible, but at this point it seems to only be accessible to specific populations of users. For example, it is partially accessible to low-vision users by using the "Voice" tools. These tools are pretty primitive compared to the abilities of JAWS and Internet Explorer. By using the "Speak" tool the user can have Opera read back the text on the page. The text must first be highlighted and then the voice will read it back. This is really a primitive bare boned feature mainly because Opera offers the user no other navigational commands to guide the reading. There is no way to interrupt the reader to stop, pause the voice, or to play back what has been read.

This browser right now is pretty much not accessible to blind users at all. The browser does not work with current screen readers such as JAWS or Window Eyes. So, there is no way for a blind user to effectively use Opera with screen readers to achieve the result of having the content on the page read aloud. It is only possible for a blind user to "view" or read the content of a page through Opera with Refreshable Braille.

Even using Refreshable Braille much of the information and the content on most sites are left unknown for the blind users. The output that the Refreshable Braille gives the user is simply text and is not marked otherwise. This makes it very confusing for a user who cannot view a screen to navigate through a page. It becomes a guessing game as to what is an active link, what is a button, or what might simply be a graphic. The browser does not always distinguish graphics and links from just plain text on the page. This obviously makes effective navigation very difficult, if not impossible.

Although the Opera developers claim that this is the most accessible browser, I have not found it so for low-vision and blind users. For sighted users it seems to be a great resource with many useful tools, but this is not true in every case of accessibility such as low-vision and blind users. Without the proper features and compatibility with screen readers this browser is virtually unusable for blind users.

Overall Recommendation

I think this browser provides a great alternative to the more popular and prescriptive internet browsers. I really liked Opera. I thought that it was easy to learn and use. I really liked the layout and organization of the pages. The layout made it very easy to view what pages are open and running. It also keeps them open in the order that you open them which is great if you are doing research. The pages can be saved this way and it could be a really good tool for students and people within a research oriented field. This new version of Opera seems to be very well put together, especially concerning the needs and desires of sighted users.

Still, there are many accessibility issues that need to be worked out. The browser as it stands now is not consistently accessible to people or users with various disabilities. It only seems to be partially accessible. It is really not accessible for blind users, and is only partially accessible to low-vision users, and to my research does not really effectively provide accessible tools with those that have tactile issues. This new version of the browser does not make it easy for blind or low-vision users to navigate through pages. It is very difficult to have the browser's "Voice" tools read back text aloud. The accessibility of these tools is minimal. The browser does not work effectively at this point with any screen readers. This is obviously not helpful for blind users because in order for them to even really try to use this browser, they would need to use refreshable Braille which many do not have.

However, there are other tools that are available for low-vision users that make it easy to manipulate the magnification and the screen size that is viewed, but still, there are other browsers that offer more usable and comprehensive tools to these two populations of users. I would not really recommend this browser's use for people with visual impairments. I would really only recommend it at this point for sighted individuals.

Overall, I think that this browser would be a great recommendation and a good choice mainly for the sighted and possibly the occasional low-vision user, but not with blind users. Just like with any new program or software it will take time and practice to learn how it works and operates. But, I really think that with time and patience, this browser could be a very useful tool for our clients. I think that in the beginning, some of the navigation might seem a little tricky, but with some practice and with experiencing how the program works the user will be able to use the program to its full potential.