Category Archives: News

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

Word Prediction update

During the summer we noticed that AIType was cutting off the initial letters when used with Internet Explorer and then we had a complete collapse of the service for a short time. This caused some concern and when we tested the Windows desktop version of the software we could not reach the servers as quickly as expected.

AIType were amazingly quick in reassuring us that they had had some server issues but these were immediately rectified. We checked our servers and the problems happened to occur just as Magnus was updating our servers as well.

Happily the speed issues have been resolved and so have the problems that were occurring with Internet Explorer. Both the Arabic and English word prediction are working well at the moment as has been illustrated in the graphic whilst writing this blog. I have been using the HTML view in WordPress. If you use the Visual mode in rich text editors there tends to be a problem with the dialog box with the word selections not appearing possibly due to the javascript edit box overriding the word prediction whereas a simple edit box always works. As many of the menu items on the rich text editor tool bar are not accessible via keyboard, this may not be an issue for those who do not use a mouse.

word prediction

Word prediction used with a simple edit box - HTML mode in WordPress

الصورة التي تظهر هي اختبار البرنامج بالعربي
Arabic word prediction

Server upgrades, back up creation and improvements to the ATbar framework with documentation.

Magnus White has joined the team over the summer taking over from Seb Skuse who has joined an iPhone app development company.

Server monitoring

Monitoring server status

Magnus has spent much of his time setting up a new documentation system and upgrading the servers to host ATbar and the market place with a back up and monitoring system. This allows us to see at a glance all the systems working including the text to speech, spell checking and word prediction that use third party services. With around 1500 uses of the toolbar per day, upgrading the server had become essential and the timing was right with Magnus taking over as lead developer.

Monitoring ATbar services

Monitoring ATbar services

Lustig dance centre screen grab

ATbar used as part of the website code so remains persistent for all web pages on the site with any browser.



Looking at general stats on 19th Sept 2012 there is an interesting mix of uses of the ATbar:


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.


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 

Updates on the progress on Arabic spell checking, TTS, Word Prediction and the ATKit

footstepsThe last few weeks since the Christmas break have flown by with a flurry of activity which is retrospect seems at times to have made us feel as if we have been going two steps forward only to have to go at least one if not more steps backward!  But there have been some breakthroughs in the areas of Spell checking, Text to Speech, Word Prediction and the ATKit website.

Spell Checking

Thanks to Mashael AlKadi we have a really clear evaluation of the spell checker titled Dyslexic Typing Errors in Arabic (PDF download) and also thank you to Mina Monta who commented that:

  • “Some of the words are correct in spell & in the meaning but AT spell checker detect that those are wrong words
  • In the suggested word list, there is no sorting according to the priority of the suggested word (according to the relativity between the suggested word & the original wrong word)
  • Some of the suggested words are wrong in spell
  • The number of the suggested words is to high comparing with MS Word spell checker.
  • MS Word is better in detecting the wrong words in grammar (the word has correct spell) “

Sadly research into English spell checkers has revealed that they are not as accurate as we had hoped when it comes to providing false errors and real words or homophones as can be seen from this presentation about online spell checking.

I asked Mashael whether adding a new corpus would help as Seb has succeeded in collecting a larger Arabic corpus and has put in some code to make it possible to add this extended vocabulary.   However, Mashael’s comment was:

“regarding adding new words, do you mean expanding the tool’s dictionary? I don’t think you should worry beacuse it was working very well expect for certain remarks that I’ve said such as the tool’s behavior with words attached to prepositions. In such case only some adjustments should be applied to the tool’s mechanism and I think it will work great.”

So with the support of Erik and Mina in our last meeting, it has been decided that we will work on particular improvements as a future aim with the help of our Arabic speaking colleagues.

Text to Speech

It has been a bit of a trial and error period starting with the withdrawal of Google Translate. We were aware this might happen, but had rather hoped there could be a reprieve as this was a free option, although in the tests carried out with 5 Arabic speaking students the results were poor in comparison to Acapela and Vocalizer voices. The sadness also on the part of the time spent on this work as it was something we had proved was possible to achieve – a free TTS on the toolbar.  Microsoft Speak Method was also tried and tested – but the TTS appeared to leave off initial sounds and the voice was unacceptable to our beta testers.

We also learnt that NVDA in Arabic was only going to work with the Arabic TTS offered by Microsoft and eSpeak and Festival with the Mbrola project was still an uphill struggle.

As a research project and definitely not for profit we also wondered if we could go back to Google Translate but the agreement  specifically says  “The program may be used only by registered researchers and their teams, and access may not be shared with others.”

Meanwhile Fadwa Mohamad kindly visited King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology(KACST) over the Christmas period and met Professor Ibrahim A. Almosallam who has been in touch to say that they are developing an Arabic Text to Speech application, but it has yet to be released.  I am enquiring as to whether this is a desktop application or a VAAS system (Voice as a Service) such as that offered by Acapela in Arabic.

Seb then spent time working on the Acapela VAAS system and this was shown to work well in all the tests although there are issues when a whole page is read out.  It is felt that it might be more appropriate to restrict the call on the servers and just allow text to be highlighted and then spoken.  We now have to negotiate the way we can work with this system, as the final output needs to be free to the user.

There is also the option of building a new Arabic voice and this is being explored – although it would take time and effort to generate the corpus, normalise the output and beta test, even when there are engines available to achieve this aim….. A new build Arabic voice needs further discussion but we have the connections in place.


wordprediction screen grabSeb has been able to show how this feature for the toolbar is possible in English and the background architecture is in place for the Arabic version pending the language pack.

ATKit website

ATkit siteIt has been agreed that the mock up of the ATKit website that was available as a demonstrator should be taken forward and developed.  This has been completed with the ability to add plugins both free and those that require payment (for instance where a TTS requires a fee). Users can register, build  their own toolbar and save the results.  The next step is a completed Arabic translation and the ability to author plugins …

Arabic ATKit

ATbar Website Close to Deployment

atbar site

The ATbar website is at the stage where the framework is complete and the only thing missing is the content on a few minor pages. There are four sections to the website:
— Kit subsite
— API subsite
— Arabic version site

The Kit subsite is to hold the marketplace for additional modules for the toolbar, but until we have decided how that will be implemented we can’t start making the interface. Currently there is a placeholder with a “coming soon…” message.

The API subsite contains a Wiki for developers which will most likely list the code or have links to GitHub where it is currently published.

The Arabic site is the same as the English one expect for everything reading to from right to left. We will need someone to translate the pages into Arabic, but once that is done then it will be finished.

atbar arabic site

Downloading ATbar

The ATbar installer is available from the site now. Simply navigate to the download page and the automatic installer will pick the appropriate installation files depending on what browser you are using. Currently only Chrome and Safari are supported but we hope to include FireFox and IE in the future.

Remaining Tasks

Currently I am working on improving the instructions page to have detailed instructions of use however, these may need to change depending on what features we decide to use on ATbar v2.0. The Help and FAQ files are also under construction – any input with questions that you might think need answering would be appreciated.
The About and Privacy pages also need to be written (looking to E.A for input on those).


The re-building begins for ATbar!

Seb has started building the new bar with a Chrome extension that makes it possible to have persistence so you can view more than one page with the bar staying in place.  It works with top pages but even with lower levels it is now easy to toggle the toolbar on and off from the menu bar of the browser.  You can also see when it is being used with a small white area appearing around the button.

ATbar in ChromeThe download for the Chrome extension is at the moment available from the Google Chrome site, but will soon be available on our new ATbar website.  Further extensions or add-ons are planned for the other browsers and once these are tested it will be onto offering more options for the user.

Welcome to ATbar

Image of atbar

The ATbar is a browser based option to aid accessibility of websites with the option to change the look and feel of webpages through text only enlargement, font style and colour changes plus increased line spacing.  There are also features for text to speech, a dictionary and spell checking.

The original toolbar was funded by JISC TechDis as an open source BSD licensed plug-in.  Fix the Web collaboration allowed for an additional element to be added to the toolbar – a small heart logo to the right of the ATbar logo.  Users of websites can report any issues with accessibility to the Fix the Web team for further checking so contact can be made with the developers.

To date the ATbar has had over 5 million uses with downloads occurring all over the world.  This has resulted in requests for versions in different languages and this blog is going to track the way the toolbar is being adapted to suit the Arabic language thanks to a grant from The Qatar Assistive Technology Center (Mada).