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article imageThe Zac Browser Helps Some Autistic Kids Use The Web

By KJ Mullins     Jun 4, 2008 in Internet
John LeSieur has created a new Web Browser for autistic kids so his grandson could enjoy the Internet. The Zac Browser For Autistic Children is free and named after the child it was designed for, his grandson Zackary.
The browser was written after LeSieur scoured the web searching for something that didn't frustrate Zackary. Too many options made the computer a hardship for Zak when he went on. LeSieur looked for a simple browser that could guide Zak's trips online but discovered that there wasn't anything that streamlined things for someone with autism.
While the Internet can open up worlds for those with disabilities it can also be a headache for them without the proper navigation tools.
The Zac browser helps by simplifying the experience of the computer. Most sites are sealed off blocking violent, sexual or otherwise adult-themed material. The browser then presents a small selection of free, public Internet sites that have an emphasis on educational games, music, videos and visually entertaining images. There are other programs that give children the "walled garden" approach to Web surfing but the Zac Browser goes a step further by reducing the controls for kids like Zackary who find too many choices confusing.
The right button on the mouse is disabled and "Print Screen" is gone from the menu. Commands that most children have no need for are also eliminated. What it does do is make the Internet a fun place with just a few choices and gives more confidence in the experience to an autistic child.
The browser has large icons with simple designs like a soccer ball for games that guide a child. There are no advertisements or flashing distractions to confuse the experience.
"We're trying to avoid aggressive or very dark or complicated Web sites, because it's all about self-esteem," LeSieur said from Las Vegas, where he lives. "If they're not under control, they will get easily frustrated."
The child's mother Emmanuelle Villeneuve says that her son can now start the browser himself enjoying music and tries out puzzles. While he acts out aggressively against the television he doesn't try to harm the computer.
The Zac Browser is on the small software company that LeSieur runs, People CD Inc. It was not made with consultation of experts in the disorders on the autism spectrum, rather simply for the needs of Zackary. Early reports have been positive and LeSieur intends to tweak the program so parents can suggest new contend to add.
Several experts on autism were not surprised to hear of Zackary's problems before his own browser was made. Creating a browser that works for an autistic child that works for another is a tall order, what helps one person with the disorder might be the opposite of what another person with the condition needs.
"Some parts of the Web have so much extraneous material that it can be distracting, and for the nonverbal child, there might not be an ability to negotiate that information," added Stephen Sheinkopf, an autism researcher at Brown University.
Still the Zac Browser is a step in the right direction with a price tag that doesn't hurt to try it out. Many assistive programs cost as much as $5,000 and require specialized devices to use. The Zac Browser does what it does for free and increases the chance that a child's ability will allow for a bit of independence on the Web.
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