Abstract Dena Al Thani 9th May 2013

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Cross-modal Collaborative Information Seeking

Most previous studies of access to the web for users with visual impairments (VI) have focused solely on human-web interaction, that is specific interactions with objects, and the navigation between them. This study explores the under investigated area of cross-modal collaborative information seeking (CCIS) - the challenges and opportunities that exist in supporting visually impaired users to take an effective part in collaborative web search tasks with sighted peers.

We observed behaviour patterns that occurred in CCIS activities among 8 pairs of visually impaired and sighted users in both co-located and distributed settings. Our findings showed the influence of the different interaction modalities “i.e. vision vs. use of a screen-reader”, as well as differences due to whether pairs were working co-located or distributed from one another. The effects of these factors were most clearly seen in the way pairs opted to divide the labour involved in search tasks, and the way in which they provided and used awareness information. Asymmetric division of labour strategies were employed to try to overcome the challenges imposed by accessibility issues and the use of different interaction modalities. In terms of workplace awareness, participants provided more awareness information than was needed in an attempt to compensate for the absence of a tool to support cross-modal awareness information exchange.

The study also looked at how the different stages of information seeking were performed. The stages were performed individually most of the time in both settings, however it was observed in that in the co-located setting, results exploration and management stages were performed collaboratively. Most of the time, the underlying cause of this type of collaboration was the challenges faced when VI users were carrying out results management tasks on their own. These challenges result from the linear nature of speech-based screen-reader output and the cognitive load that this adds to the collaborative process. Furthermore, web accessibility issues played a significant role in slowing down the performance of VI users. As an outcome of our observational study, we suggest a set of preliminary design recommendations to support the CCIS process. We propose examining ways to improve individual VI information seeking as a necessary pre-requisite to improving collaborative search. Further, we propose that providing improved mechanisms for individual and collaborative results management is a key area of focus for improving the efficacy of collaborative search.

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