Category Archives: ATbar

Testing ATbar – responsive design version

tablets used for testingA group of us met up over lunch to test ATbar on a series of portable devices.  This was very much a ‘beta’ testing session with critical friends.  We filled in a test form and the results were analysed.




Some problems still need to be resolved namely:

  • size of icons on smart phones
  • selecting text for text to speech – Samsung Galaxy with Honeycomb does not work
  • exiting ATbar does not necessarily mean the speech stops
  • Windows tablet using Chrome does not allow for zoom by stretch and pinch
  • iPad with Safari seems to produce variable results,  in particular with text highlighting
  • highlighting text for text to speech is not easy

It is clear that the only way ATbar can work with mobile web browsers is to have the toolbar embedded in the website’s code.  It cannot be added to mobile browsers as a bookmarklet. If the toolbar is embedded the toolbar will load as it does on a desktop browser offering coloured overlays, text to speech and other text enhancements and accessibility options.

ATbar access to Google docs, Facebook and Twitter improved plus other updates

atbar google docsThere have been recent updates to make the tool-bar more robust and compatible with browsers and the results have meant increased access to Google docs, Facebook (except Chrome at present) and Twitter – the text to speech and word prediction work when you change the background look and feel using the painter’s palate  (change page style).   The colour overlay can be toggled on an off for all websites and works with click through so you can go to another site even if you have the coloured overlay in place.

Work on the style sheet issues has also meant that the dialog boxes in ATbar do not always take on the style sheet of the target website.  This also saves time when implementing new plugins and adding new things to the tool-bar as there are less style clashes so it is easier to customise the tool-bar for particular websites.

TTS logos

The latest version of the Festival Speech Synthesis System is now available as an option on the ATbar Market place website. The Festival plugin works in a similar way to the commercial Acapela TTS plugin.

ATbar now works with all the free speech synthesisers such as eSpeak and Mbrola but the quality of some of the voices is still a challenge for most listeners.


Updating the help button, checking style sheet issues and checking increased usage.

This month’s maintenance for the ATbar has included the updating of the wiki to include the instructions as a link from the toolbar with a small question mark icon. This has been completed in both Arabic and English and came about thanks to a question that we received via the contact form.  The latter now also has our address as requested.

Atbar with labels for menu buttons

We also had a question about making toolbars in the market place and we have been updating the site to ensure that new toolbars can be saved as there seemed to be a problem with this aspect of the site.  Making ones own toolbar is easy with a simple install to the bookmark or favorites area within the browser.

Both Nawar and Magnus have been looking into issues that affect the toolbar in terms of its presentation, such as cascading style sheets causing buttons and text to change. We are trying to find a way of eliminating these difficulties but it is easier said than done!

Nawar has also be researching issues around free and open source TTS voices to see if there are any new options or ways of developing ones ourselves.  Not easy!

We have had a request for the story of ATbar and are looking forward to hearing when this will be published! Whilst researching for this article we also checked the statistics and found that we have had around 2,800 visitors to the download page (where the embed code is situated) in the last year, 1,125 WordPress plugin downloads. The total statistics for the English and the Arabic ATbar show that it has been used on 160,000 different sites and has had over 6.7 million uses in the last three years.

New ATbar YouTube video in Arabic and continued maintenance

Nawar Halabi has very kindly provided an introductory video of the Arabic version of ATbar and we have uploaded it to YouTube.

YouTube video overview of ATbar in Arabic
Nawar has also been testing the Arabic version as part of our maintenance programme.  We have found some issues with Arabic mis-aligned text at times and there are occasions when the CSS of the website needs to be isolated from the toolbar.  Otherwise all the plugins appear to have worked well in the last few months.

testing dictionary

Testing the Arabic dictionary

testing word prediction

Testing the spell checker, text to speech and word prediction.

arabic report

Where failures were reported these were double checked and found to be due to the word not being a partial word or not being in the dictionaries – usually due to an English speaking person trying to cut and past Arabic words!


Arabic Spell Checker

Maraim Masoud and I (I am Nawar Habib) have been aiming to improve the accuracy of the Arabic spell checker currently running on ATbar.  We have done some research through previous work done in the area. The currently-running spell checker is an ASpell instance using a word list of common Arabic words. It produces good spelling suggestions for long Arabic words (longer than 4 letters) because of the high diffusion between long Arabic words (Which is probably true in any language). High diffusion means that it is not likely that a Typing error in one word would produce another correct word. Arabic roots on the other hand, are 3 or 4-letter words, so a typing error (changing on letter or omitting a letter) would very likely produce another correct root or even another Arabic language constructs like a connective or proposition, and even if the word produced by the error was not an Arabic word, the spelling suggestions might sometimes be confusing for short words because of many alternative possibilities.

Ayaspell is a project aimed at producing an Arabic word list mainly for spell-checking purposes. The creators of Ayaspell also provide a Hunspell based spell checker equipped with their word list. The main issue with their work is that they used traditional Arabic dictionaries as their word source which contain Arabic words that are no longer used. This would confuse the spell checker and decrease the diffusion talked about above in this post. This is the only documented word list we have found and we did a brief test on the Hunspell implementation which did not show good results.

Hence to improve our spell-checker we should:

1- Make sure popular words are added to our word list (the ability to do that exists).
2- Hunspell and ASpell use Phonetic codes to represent words as they sound spoken. This helps in giving suggestions that not just have close spelling but also close pronunciation. For Arabic it is completely different, Arabic words sound as written (With some exceptions like confusing ة with ه, or ي with ى, or ى with ا, or أ with ا), hence, spelling errors happen accidentally (Button Proximity). But still the phonetic code should be utilized in Arabic but new methods should be added to accurately calculate the distance between words (like Adding Grammar-checking).

We had a problem with Wiktionary’s service API. Wiktionary, when asked for a word definition, conducts an exact-match search on Arabic words, so, if the submitted word has prefixs or suffixes or a definitive article, the word would not be found. To solve this we are creating a light stemmer that operates as preprocessor before the word is looked-up in the dictionary. The light stemmer has a smll CPU footprint because it does not use a word list (only Grammer rules), unlike heavy stemmers which use word list to increase accuracy but decrease performance.

Spell Checking Plugin Update

The spell checking plugin has been updated to further record spelling errors. It now also records the sentence containing the error to provide context for the spell checking service. However, in order to comply with the Data Protect Act 1998, we ask users if they would like to provide the data anonymously.

When spell checking is complete, the user is asked if they would like to submit anonymous usage data. This data is displayed to ensure they know what the are submitting.

Spell checking plugin - asking user to submit anonymous usage data

End of Year update

Spell Checking Service

The spell checking service has been updated and analysed by Nawar and one of the conclusions is that the error checking for long single words is relatively accurate without context.  However, with words that are small and typed incorrectly there are two problems.   One is that the word can be changed to another word that is not appropriate for the context but the spelling is correctly so the mistake is not picked up.  The second problem is that if one small error has been made in a short word there are often too many options as to how this word could be spelt.  The spell checker does not cope with grammatical errors and is unable to see the context of words.

ATbar spelling service

Magnus has found that because the spell checker does not ‘use’ any words around the error he is having to develop a system that will record the words typed prior to the error and then capture a few words after the error.   This is not as easy as it sounds!  The service for correcting errors is in place without the sentences at present

 Server Side Support

All aspects of the websites and toolbar that have required the move to ‘https’ have occurred.  This may not appear to be important to users but it has been done to allow the ATbar and its services to be used on any secure sites such as banking services etc.  The ‘https’ is a way of telling people that you are a trusted source – Magnus has obtained SSL certificates for the majority of our services – these will expire in 2015.  The ATbar and its services now sit on a new virtual server.  We are still looking to the possibility of having a redundant server if the one we are using fails, but this is a costly exercise.

As part of this process all versions of ATbar are now automatically updated. 

For the latest version of ATbar please find it here:


Documentation is available on a wiki and on Github

Github screen shot

Instructions are available in Arabic and English

wiki screen shot


We have looked into possible alternative dictionaries instead of using Wiktionary.  Wiktionary has a very limited word list and poor definitions when used in Arabic. Of the freely available dictionaries, Word Reference looked promising as it has a comprehensive English to Arabic translation database which is also a dictionary. It has an API but sadly no Arabic > Arabic with definitions or even stems.

One of the problems we face is that true Arabic dictionaries are structured in a different way to western ones. Many of the dictionaries we have looked at include some stem information but lack the more comprehensive information required to help users (example).

We need to understand the use of the dictionary required on ATbar in order to be able to provide the correct service.  So any comments would be very welcome. 

Desktop ATbar

We have developed a Desktop ATbar with magnification, screen reading, colour overlay with screen ruler and an on-screen keyboard. It is still in the beta version and we are in the process of improving its accessibility such as tab order and icon improvements. It is hoped a final release will be available next week. The toolbar has been tested on Windows 7/8 and should be backward compatible – it has not been developed for the Mac OS.

Desktop ATbar

The code for the toolbar is open source and available for download from GitHub. We have included concise and comprehensive inline-documentation between code segments. Several free open source libraries have been used as part of the project and adjusted to suite our needs.

Now, we are making sure the toolbar is easier to install and there are several issues to consider:

  • Anti-Viruses blocking the toolbar.
  • Installing newer versions of the bar on-top of old ones.
  • Making the bar easy to use with shortcuts while avoiding shortcut collisions.

Please do leave your comments on any items we have discussed.

All good wishes for the New Year.  Till 2013

ATbar Marketplace update in Arabic and English

Over the last two weeks Magnus has been working hard to make the Arabic marketplace and the English marketplace easier to use – Now it is time for testing and providing comments!  With over 30 plugins it was becoming apparent that we needed to sort and filter the contents of the marketplace.

 Search and Filter

The ‘Search’ works in English and Arabic and you can search for plugin and toolbar names, descriptions and categories plus tags that are language specific. Search words are recorded so that we are aware what is being searched and can work on the type of plugins that may be required.  The search is not collecting any IP addresses or personal data.

Plugins can be filtered by language and category and you can set the number of items to be viewed per page so that you do not have endless plugins scrolling down.  However, once a plugin has been chosen the page jumps back to where you were if choose to have a long list.

plugin filters

 Language changes

If you are in a page belonging to one language it is now possible to switch between languages and stay on the same page rather than jump back to home.

Install Toolbars

There is now a helpful arrow to show you how to add a toolbar to your browser.  The only problem we have to overcome is the fact that the ‘Install button’ becomes the name of your toolbar and you might need to re-name the bookmark (right hand mouse – edit (Chrome) or rename (Internet Explorer) in your bookmark/favorites list or under properties in Firefox).  This is available in both Arabic and English.

toolbar link

rename toolbar

This is how you rename the toolbar of your choice.  There is the possibility of using the title of a toolbar for the install button but this could mean the name is too long – short names are best.


A framework that might help those developing Arabic software and websites.

Fadwa ALRowais is researching the use of a framework that is aimed at helping those  developing software in the Arabic language to be more aware of issues that might arise for those who have Dyslexia.  This is proving very helpful in general terms for those of us who do not speak, read or write the language.

Navigation features

aljazeera screengrabOne navigational requirement says: ” Ensure that data entry, ‎data display and navigation controls are ‎consistent in direction (for example, in ‎Arabic interface data entry ‎for ‎textual content should be from right to left, for numeric content from left ‎to right and navigation controls for the next screen should point towards ‎the left and for the previous screen point towards the right).‎

ATbar reset arrowShould the reset page icon on ATbar stay with an arrow heading left or should it be reversed as its intent is to send you back to an original look? 

Whilst work goes ahead to make the toolbar and its menus read from right to left we want to ensure that all icons are correct and are representative of their functions.

ATbar high contrast modeWhat happens when you linearise a web page for easier reading in Arabic – it should go from right to left but this will only happen if you are using the Arabic version of the ATbar. Reading ahead you will see some discussion about justification and this can be done via the CSS (Cascading Style sheet file) on the ATbar website and also under the colour changes plug-in.

Text to Speech issues

It has been hard to find a localised text to speech (TTS) engine as voices in Arabic appear to only exist in Standard Arabic and the language spoken on a daily basis differs from the language used in education and in formal writing.

Localisation apart there is also the concerns about the way the text is read not just the type of voice.  Whereas in English there are clear word margins and punctuation to help the TTS engine, in Arabic there are two types of spacing – the word boundary space and spaces that can occur within a word.  Accurate pausing and  intonation patterns are harder to achieve with synthesised voices in this case.

Website Content

Cultural aspects of the language that impact on help files and instructions  – There is the need to have separate dialogues for each gender because the Arabic language is a gender ‎specific language (for example, the word (‎رَسَمت‎) /rasamat/ which means ‎‎’draw’ is used to refer to the female, while the word (‎رَسَمَ‎) /rasama/ is used to ‎refer to the male).‎  In fact many sites use the male version, but this is something we need to consider when working on training materials in particular.

Fonts that are easy to read are important such as Arabic Transparent and Simplified Arabic Fixed, avoiding angular font types such as Koufi and Andalus.  In the case of the ATbar site Helvetica neue was chosen in sans serif style.  However, we have also been advised that whenever possible it is important to offer automatic diacritization so the ‎appearance ‎of ‎diacritics can be controlled with options for full ‎diacritics, ‎partial ‎diacritics and no diacritics.   The use of partial diacritics ‎with Arabic ‎script is better than ‎no diacritics,because those who are dyslexic may be depending on the diacritics for phonological assistance via their visual clues. An example of this occurs when discussing ‘tanween’ ‎‎/n/ formatted as ‎a diacritic, to ‎distinguish between root word ‎ending with letter ‘n’‎‏‎ ‎‏and ‎sound ‎‏/‏n‏/ ‏produced by ‎diacritics at ‎‏the ‎end of word ‎‏‎(‎for example‎: /‎n‎/ ‎at the ‎end of the word ‎‏‎(‎لُبْنَان‎) /loobnaan/ is different from /n/ at the ‎end of the ‎word ‎‎(‎لَيْلٌ‎) ‎‎‏/‏lailon/).‎

When it comes to Arabic text alignment the advice is to use right-justified or fully-justified ‎text. In ‎full-justified mode, Arabic orthographies use ‎connectors (kashida) elongating ‎specific characters of the cursive ‎script without producing extra white space ‎between words as in English texts. Fully-justified ‎Arabic text has been reported as ‎being useful for better recognition of letters and attached diacritics as ‎well as offering visual help when reading from right to ‎left and moving from top to bottom through ‎the lines.‎

We are hoping we can improve our web pages and the toolbar to illustrate as many of the guidelines as possible. More guidelines will follow as the framework is developed.  Thank you Fadwa.





Mada Center launches ATbar in Arabic with news reel coverage.

The Mada Center hosted the launch of ATbar in Arabic their news article began:

Mada (Qatar Assistive Technology Center) has released the Arabic version of “AT Bar,” a powerful open source tool that enables people with disabilities to access the internet and computers with greater access.

This comes with a very big thank you for the Mada Center’s support for this project and the wonderful time I was given by David Banes and all those at the Center during this time.   I could not believe it when I read the papers the next day.  The Gulf Tribune, Creative Commons Qatar and Peninsula papers had articles about the ATbar along with ‘Qatar is’.

Thank you