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The Hawking Toolbar

The Hawking Toolbar is a free, open source plug-in for the Firefox web browser. It adds a toolbar that makes web pages and the browser switch accessible to single-switch and two-switch users.

This is the first accessibility tool of its kind, finally allowing single-switch users access to web pages without the need to buy expensive and complicated third party software. It also makes accessing the web much more efficient for two-switch users through its page scrolling and group scanning features.

Screenshot

Screenshot of Hawking Toolbar

Features

This screenshot shows all the features of the Hawking Toolbar. The toolbar consists of the fifteen larger icons running horizontally below Firefox's regular toolbar. The toolbar itself is switch-accessible and is split into two sections. The four icons on the far left provide the most common functions. The remaining icons are used less frequently and are only scanned when called upon.

  1. Scroll down page
  2. Scroll up page
  3. Start scanning links
  4. Start scanning the rest of the toolbar
  5. Go back a page
  6. Go forward a page
  7. Refresh page
  8. Stop loading
  9. Go to user's home page
  10. Print page*
  11. Toolbar settings (not switch accessible)
  12. Toggle scan on and off
  13. Increase text size
  14. Decrease text size
  15. Read page aloud*

* I could not get the Read Page Aloud or Print Page features to work on either of my test computers.

Switch Access

The screenshot above demonstrates the link scanner which works by highlighting groups of ten links at a time. Pressing the select switch then allows scanning within the group. This method, called Group Scanning, allows pages with many links to be accessed in a much more efficient manner.

The Hawking Toolbar supports single-switch and two-switch scanning. The timings for the autoscan can be set in the settings dialog. The default timings are quite fast and you will certainly need to increase the 'Extra Time To Dwell On First Link' setting as the default of 1000ms does not give enough time to select the first link when entering a group.

The switch access works through keyboard emulation, by default using the # and @ keys. It does not support the joystick emulation used by the Crick USB Interface, JoyCable and more other modern switch interfaces. Although you can use your switch driver to emulate these keys it's not quite as reliable and can affect any typing done on the web such as in forms and emails.

Customisation

The customisation settings of this program do fall rather short. In addition to changing the switch timings you can only change the scanning colours (border/fill) and the amount the page scrolls when that option is selected.

It lacks an ability to remove buttons from the toolbar which I think would be useful, particularly in school environments. There is also no way of adjusting how many links can be included in each scanning group, and groups cannot be re-scanned once the end of the group is reached. There is also no tremor control for switches which would be required by many users and the settings dialog itself is not switch-accessible.

These shortcomings are not a significant problem, however, as the software is in early stages of development. Plus because the software is Open Source External Link any interested party with the right knowledge can have a go at improving it.

Download

You can download the Hawking Toolbar External Link for free and try it out yourself.