In the brief history of the World Wide Web, we have seen a number of technologies and ideas come and go. The non-visual, or self-voicing, Web browser is one technology that emerged in 1995-1996 and sought to solve the challenges that people with visual impairments were facing when trying to access the Web. pwWebspeak was one such product, joined by IBM’s Home Page Reader, and a number of research oriented systems. These products arose because screen readers of the time had significant challenges in presenting and interacting with Web content. Fortunately, with the advent of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative and improvements in Web content, accessibility APIs, and screen readers, these specialized browsers became largely obsolete.
Having faded into the sunset, the legacy of these pioneers is worth noting, as they served as a proving ground for Web accessibility and influenced how users of current screen readers interact with the Web today.
If you are interested in learning more about one of these pioneers, I have added an article on pwWebSpeak to the TakingInterfaces Artifacts section.
And, if you want to experience a self-voicing browser without stepping back into the 1990’s, Charles Chen’s FireVox add-on for Firefox is highly recommended. For those on Linux, T.V. Raman’s emacspeaks, now in its 29th release, is still the best and just about only implementation of Aural CSS (Opera includes ACSS support).