Arboretum and Arbility: Improving Web Accessibility Through a Shared Browsing Architecture

Many web pages developed today require navigation by visual interaction—seeing, hovering, pointing, clicking, and dragging with the mouse over dynamic page content. These forms of interaction are increasingly popular as developer trends have moved from static, linearly structured pages to dynamic, interactive pages. However, they are also often in-accessible to blind web users who tend to rely on keyboard-based screen readers to navigate the web. Despite existing web accessibility standards, engineering web pages to be equally accessible via both keyboard and visuomotor mouse-based interactions is often not a priority for developers. Improving access to this kind of visual, interactive web content has been a long-standing goal of HCI researchers, but the obstacles have exceeded the many proposed solutions: promoting developer best practices, automatically generating accessible versions of existing web pages, and sighted-guides, such as screen and cursor-sharing, which tend to diminish the end user’s agency and privacy. In this paper, we present a collaborative approach to helping blind web users overcome inaccessible parts of existing web pages. We introduce Arboretum, a new architecture that enables any web user to seamlessly hand off controlled parts of their browsing session to remote users, while maintaining control over the interface via a “propose and accept/reject” mechanism. We illustrate the benefit of Arboretum by using it to implement Arbility, a browser that allows blind users to hand off targeted visual interaction tasks to remote crowd workers without forfeiting agency. We evaluate the entire system in a study with nine blind web users, showing that Arbility allows blind users to access web content that was previously inaccessible via a screen reader alone.