Total Access for Disabled Computer Users

Neil Scott, Stanford CSLI (Center for the Study of Language and Information)

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University February 3, 1993


For most computer users, improvements in the performance of the hardware and software, and the introduction of new user interfaces generally lead to increased productivity. For many disabled users, however, these improvements often introduce new barriers. The most pronounced example of this is the affect the Graphical User Interface (GUI) has had on blind users. For more than a decade, blind people have relied on screen reading programs which use synthesized speech to read text from the screens of computers. Unfortunately, existing screenreaders cannot cope with the GUI. As a consequence, blind computer users are severely disadvantaged through the growing popularity of GUIs.

There is another growing problem which affects all disabled computer users. The usual approach for providing access is adapt a particular computer to meet the specific of a particular user. Each type of disability requires a different access technique. Providing adequate access was relatively straight forward while each person used a single computer, and each computer was used by a single person. Now, however, we all use many different computers for home, study, work, and leisure activities. Furthermore, many of these computers are shared by different users. While it is impossible to make all computers accessible to all disabilities, it is possible to achieve the same result by handling access functions outside of the computer and providing a standardized interface. The Archimedes Project at Stanford is developing a "Total Access System" in which each disabled user has a personal "accessor" which performs all access functions. Each type of computer is equipped with a bidirectional infrared interface called a "Total Access Port" (TAP) which can communicate with any accessor. With this combination, any disabled person can communicate with any host computer, appliance, or electronic device which has a TAP.

This talk will describe the Total Access System and show how it solves problems such as those outlined above.


Neil Scott is a native of New Zealand, now in his third career. Neil spent his early adult years with the New Zealand Broadcasting System as a technician, then as an engineer setting up the country's television system. Simultaneously, he was a part-time instructor in electronics at Wellington Polytechnic. Neil soon decided the field of education to be the most challenging. He became assistant dean and then dean of the School of Physics, Electronics, Telecommunications and Electrical Engineering at Wellington Polytechnic, during which time he designed and developed an educational computer system for N.Z. schools. While still at the Polytech, Neil started working with disabled people, helping them find ways in which they can access and use computers. After touring the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar in 1982, Neil returned to N.Z. and organized a National Trust to secure computer aids for people with disabilities. Eventually, his avocation of making computers accessible to those with disabilities became the force that led to his third career, immigration to the U.S. and now to CSLI. For the past three years he has been with California State University, Northridge, working under a grant from the federal Department of Education to develop the Total Access System. He joined CSLI in November, 1992.


Titles and abstracts for all years are available by year and by speaker.

For more information about HCI at Stanford see

Overview Degrees Courses Research Faculty FAQ