Starlight Platform

Software platform for developing accessible educational software for students with visual impairments


The Starlight Platform supports the development of interactive educational software that is accessible by the blind and people with low vision. The platform was designed and developed by the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory and the Centre for Universal Access and Assistive Technologies of the Institute of Computer Science of the Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (ICS-FORTH).The design of the platform, as well as the usability and accessibility evaluation, were conducted in cooperation with the Panhellenic Association of the Blind and specialized educators. All the software products developed with Starlight include the text-to-speech technology called "Ekfonitis+" which was developed by the Institute for Language and Speech Processing - ATHENA.

The electronic educational textbooks that can be developed with Starlight are much more than simple books in digital format, since they offer to the students and the educators a set of interactive educational tools.

The Starlight platform has already been used for the development of eight educational products for Primary and Secondary school classes in cooperation with Savalas Publications.

ICS-FORTH has also released a limited version of the Starlight Platform that includes only the Starlight Reader software which has been made freely available to visually-impaired people. Using this version one can have access to electronic books that are also provided for free through the Starlight web site at ICS-FORTH.

The Starlight platform consists of two main software tools:

a) Starlight Reader

The Starlight Reader supports the interaction with electronic educational textbooks that have been developed using the StarlightWriter. It is specifically designed for non-visual interaction and can be fully used without the need of a screen or a mouse. In this case, the human-computer interaction is accomplished through synthetic speech, the Braille display and the keyboard.

The navigation system is very easy and fast and can take place at any level (chapter, section, paragraph, sentence, word, letter), as well as to the navigation history. In order to differentiate between the educational content and the software interface content, two different narrating voices are used one male and one female. Furthermore, special sound effects are employed as a means to provide feedback when auser action has been completed successfully (e.g., following a link, skipping to a next section) and also to annotate parts of the text that have links or notes.

Apart from the non-visual interaction, the Starlight Reader also offers a visual interface that can be used through the mouse which allows a third party (e.g.: educator, parent, etc.) to have a view at the navigation history of the student, his/her performance at exams, and to view or even change the student's position in the content. The visual interface can also be used by low-vision students as it offers content magnification facilities.

b) Starlight Writer: Writing software

The Starlight Writer allows for the creating, editing and storing of electronic educational textbooks. It supports the writing and structuring of educational content in chapters, subchapters, paragraphs, etc. Each section can contain notes/comments as well as references to other sections of the book. At the end of each section exercises using an automated correction mechanism can be added for student to practice. The supported exercise types are: (a) multiple choice; (b) true / false; (c) fill in the gap; and (d) open-ended questions. In addition, the textbook can include exams written for specific material, a specific chapter, or for the entire textbook and can include any of the above mentioned exercise types.