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Making Life Easier for the Visually Impaired Web Searcher: It Is Now Clearer How This Should and Can Be Done, but Implementation Lags. A Review of: Sahib, N. G., Tombros, A., & Stockman, T. (2012). A comparative analysis of the information-seeking behavior of visually impaired and sighted searchers. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 63(2), 377–391. doi: 10.1002/asi.21696

Keywords: Web searching , User interfaces , Usability , User behaviour , Visually impaired users

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Objective – To determine how the behaviour of visually impaired persons significantly differs from that of sighted persons in the carrying out of complex search tasks on the internet. Design – A comparative observational user study, plus semi-structured interviews. Setting – Not specified. Subjects – 15 sighted and 15 visually impaired persons, all of them experienced and frequent Internet search engine users, of both sexes and varying in age from early twenties to mid-fifties. Methods – The subjects carried out self selected complex search tasks on their own equipment and in their own familiar environments. The investigators observed this activity to some extent directly, but for the most part via video camera, through use of a screen-sharing facility, or with screen-capture software. They distinguished four stages of search task activity: query formulation, search results exploration, query reformulation, and search results management. The visually impaired participants, of whom 13 were totally blind and two had only marginal vision, were all working with text-to-speech screen readers and depended exclusively for all their observed activity on those applications’ auditory output. For data analysis, the investigators devised a grounded-theory based coding scheme. They employed a search log format for deriving further quantitative data which they later controlled for statistical significance (two-tailed unpaired t-test; p < 0.05). The interviews allowed them to document, in particular, how the visually impaired subjects themselves subsequently accounted for, interpreted, and vindicated various observed aspects of their searching behaviour. Main Results – The investigators found significant differences between the sighted participants’ search behaviour and that of the visually impaired searchers. The latter displayed a clearly less “orienteering” (O'Day & Jeffries, 1993) disposition and style, more often starting out with already relatively long and comprehensive combinations of relatively precise search terms; “their queries were more expressive” (p. 386). They submitted fewer follow-up queries, and were considerably less inclined to attempt query reformulation. They were aiming to achieve a satisfactory search outcome in a single step. Nevertheless, they rarely employed advanced operators, and made far less use (in only 4 instances) of their search engine’s query-support features than did the sighted searchers (37 instances). Fewer of them (13%) ventured beyond the first page of the results returned for their query by the search engine than was the case

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