Let Your Readers Listen To You

The purpose of using CSS to design web pages is to separate style from the content. This enables delivering the same content in multiple formats, through multiple media. CSS does go all the way to support different media and this is illustrated by a lot of web sites today by using different styles for the print and screen media. They have a often ignored and rarely talked about kin – the audio medium. Joshua Briley visits aural stylesheets to propose them not only for the sake of accessibility, but also usability.

Imagine being in a vehicle, listening to your GPS program. Wouldn’t it be nice if street names were spoken louder and slower, making the names easier to understand? Wouldn’t it also be nice to select a voice that speaks in a frequency range that is comfortable to hear? With aural style sheets, these options are already a reality.

W3.org explains the aural stylesheet properties and attributes. In a nutshell

  • Volume properties
  • Speaking properties
  • Pause properties
  • Cue properties
  • Mixing properties
  • Spatial properties
  • Voice characteristic properties
  • Speech properties

These are very much analogous to the other properties in other media, e.g., voice-family attribute is similar to the font-family attribute. However, the sound medium is richer than the text because it can be three-dimensional and more than one voices can be involved. The spatial properties can be used to position the different voices which not only differentiates between them but also reflects the space. Everything that can do with the voice and speech can be specified using these properties.

This makes the aural stylesheets an important tool that can transform a web page into a presentation. They are useful and convenient in lot more cases, e.g., for children, in education or reading scripts; but they are still not popular. As Joshua points out, the reason is the less than minimal support in the popular browsers. However, we had seen this with earlier versions of CSS too, and the push has to come from the users. History has shown that unless the users start using and demanding a feature, neither are the developers going to incorporate it nor will the browsers. The reason why users don’t see it can be lack of information or lack of comprehensibility. The pioneers and leaders have to educate and promote the aural stylesheets and illustrate their advantage.

Lets hope it happens soon and our readers can start listening to us.

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Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.

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