ERCIM News No.38 - July 1999

The GRAFIS Word Processor for People with Disabilities

by Constantine Stephanidis

GRAFIS is a word processor specifically developed for disabled people at ICS-FORTH in the framework of the HORIZON ESTIA Project. This project ran from January 1996 to June 1998 and focused on the vocational training of unemployed disabled people, through the use of information technologies.

GRAFIS supports the typical word processing functionality, through a simple interface, accessible through conventional as well as alternative input-output devices. The basic characteristics of the interface are: (a) a clear separation between the ‘text-input’ and ‘function’ areas, and (b) elimination of overlapping objects on the screen through the grouping of functions in alternative function areas.

In addition to text input (in Greek and English), manipulation and formatting, GRAFIS features a simplified interface for storing, retrieving and otherwise managing document files. The user is supported by an extensive on-line help system which describes the interface and guides the user in the completion of common word processing tasks. GRAFIS also supports saving and loading documents in Rich-Text Format (RTF), thus allowing users to share and exchange documents with their able-bodied counterparts employing mainstream word processors.

GRAFIS supports a variety of input devices, including conventional and special keyboards, mouse, trackball, mouse emulators and binary switches. Interaction through switches is made possible through the use of interaction scanning techniques developed at ICS-FORTH. These techniques allow users that can operate only a single binary switch to make full use of the word processor.

Text input for users employing binary switches is supported through virtual keyboards with alternative key arrangements, namely: (a) QWERTY, and (b) letter-frequency based (ie, keys are arranged based on the frequency of letters and digraphs in each of the supported languages). Rate enhancement is also achieved by means of a word prediction function, which performs context-based prediction of the possible next words in a text, or of the continuation of the word currently being typed. Word prediction is based on a simple statistical technique applied to exemplary documents (eg, general-case business letters), prior to the use of GRAFIS, or documents that the user has edited, once a significant corpus of typical cases of such documents exists.

One of the primary design objectives of GRAFIS concerned the ease of customisation of the interface by both facilitators and end users. Customisable characteristics include colour (background, virtual keyboards, etc.), dimension of characters in the virtual keyboard, activation / deactivation of acoustic feedback, and interaction scanning attributes (eg, speed).

GRAFIS addresses two main categories of disability, for which there exist separate versions of the word processor: GRAFIS–1 for users with motor impairment in upper limbs and GRAFIS–2 for users with learning difficulties. Both versions support the previously described functionality in its entirety, and have very similar interfaces, but differ in terms of the input techniques; the latter are provided on the basis of user characteristics and requirements. For instance, GRAFIS-1 supports virtual keyboards and scanning for access through mouse and binary switches, while GRAFIS-2 supports input through conventional keyboard and mouse, and offers the virtual keyboard optionally. Figure 1 depicts an instance of GRAFIS–1, and Figure 2 an instance of GRAFIS–2.

Both versions of the GRAFIS word processor have been tested and evaluated by end-users during the vocational training and pilot employment phases of the ESTIA project. Additionally, after the completion of the ESTIA project, GRAFIS was distributed to selected disability organisations and end users for further evaluation. The results of the various evaluation phases have shown that GRAFIS is easy to learn and use, and that its characteristics are appreciated, in particular by users with no previous experience in word processing.

Partners in the HORIZON ESTIA Project were: ICS-FORTH, University of Athens Department of Informatics, Idrima Kinonikis Ergasias, Panellinios Sindesmos Tiflon, Idrima Pammakaristos, Eteria Spastikon Voriou Ellados, Euroskills, INESC-Portugal.

Please contact:

Constantine Stephanidis - ICS-FORTH
Tel: +30 81 39 17 41

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