The Hawking Toolbar
body may be stuck in this wheelchair, but with the Internet my mind can
go to the ends of the universe."
- Stephen Hawking,
of Cambridge Physicist, 1/6/97
The Hawking Toolbar is
plug-in for the Firefox
browser that frees individuals with severely limited motor abilities to
explore the internet, without limits.
Unlike expensive commercial products, it is free and
Published under the open-source GPL license, it can be enhanced or
customized by anyone
with the appropriate technical skills. By using a Firefox plug-in we can deliver a
For too many
centuries, people with physical disabilities have been treated as
inferior by society. Considering that one of the greatest
geniuses of our time, physicist Stephen Hawking, lives with a
debilitating form of Lou Gehrig's disease and yet continues to live a
rich life and makes giant contributions to our understanding of the
universe, it is obvious that this unfair treatment hurts all of
us. Technology makes it possible for Mr. Hawking to communicate
his ideas to us; he shows us that there is no definite correlation
between physical ability and the greatness of the human spirit.
This toolbar is a small tribute to him and all individuals who face the
biggest challenge of all: our own prejudices.
it can be enhanced
this standard Firefox plug-in will work with any new version of
Firefox. The user is not dependent upon developers to upgrade the
plug-in for each new web technology or new version of the browser
view: the user
sees the same web page as others. This plug-in enhances a popular
browser instead of requiring a specialized one!
Most of us take for granted the ability to navigate the web using
mouse and keyboard. But, like many physically disabled
individuals, Stephen Hawking's physical motion is limited to
a simple switch with his hand. Others may be more limited, such
being able to raise
lower an eyebrow; however,
this motion can be read and converted into an electronic signal to
communicate choice. The
challenge is to free all these users by letting them choose efficiently
from among possibly hundreds of links on a web site.
By using the Hawking Toolbar, the standard Firefox browser
automatically cycles through the links of a web page, highlighting each
link for a short period. The user selects a link by signalling to
the browser (with their standard switch) when the desired link is
highlighted. The plug-in also provides buttons that are cycled
through: Back, Home, Favorites, and Options. Whether a user can
control two switches or only one, the general solution is the same, but
the use of two switches allows enhanced control and efficiency.
When the page is complex or has many links, the page may be broken into
sections (typically the visible page will be divided into quadrants or
widget/ frame areas). The browser will then cycle through these
regions, highlighting each before scrolling down to the next part of
the page. If the user selects a region then it is explored more
fully by cycling through its component links or widgets. This
option of region-scanning is a user-selectable choice.
Each user may customize the appearance and behavior of the link scanner
to provide sufficient visual (and possibly audio) clues, and to provide
the reaction time appropriate for each user to select a link, according
to their specific needs. For more info, see the screenshots.
.xpi extension file, using Mozilla's XUL for user interface. CSS to define buttons/
XBL to describe
DOM. Big thanks to Jonah Bishop and his Firefox toolbar tutorial.
The Hawking Toolbar
was released in Spring 2005 under the GPL free and open-source licence.
Current status of project is available here.
Computer Science Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Gary Bishop, UNC
Professor of Comp Sci, Accessibily Guru, Original Thinker
and All-Around Nice Guy.
Email contact info:
<brett<dot>clippingdale> at <gmail<dot>com>
<gb> at <cs<dot>unc<dot>edu>
(of course!), Physicist and Lucasian professor of Mathematics,
University of Cambridge
XUL Toolbar Tutorial