User Interfaces for Semi-Literate Users

Text in the user interface provides a fast and precise mode of communication for literate users. For illiterate users, text-free user interfaces have been shown to be useful, by combining images, sound and animation [1]. However, it is not clear what the best approach will be for the vast number of semi-literate users who lie between these two ends of the spectrum, individuals who are classified as literate but may in fact have difficulty decoding a simple text passage. According to the 2001 census, the literacy rate in India is 65% [2], but by one estimate, 75-80% of the literate population may be only semi-literate [3]. This project explores how semi-literate individuals utilize redundant text and audio information in the user interface. Our goal is to understand which mode is preferred and whether this changes as the user gains experience.

People involved:

Leah Findlater, Ravin Balakrishnan, Kentaro Toyama


1.       Medhi, I., Sagar, A., Toyama, K. (2006). Text-free user interfaces for illiterate and semi-literate users. Proceedings of the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development.

2.       Government of India. Literacy as seen in the 2001 census. Retrieved February 2008 from

3.       Kothari, B., Pandey, A., and Chudgar, A. R. (2004). Reading Out of the "Idiot Box": Same-Language Subtitling on Television in India. Information Technologies and International Development, (2) 1:23-44.


Technology for Emerging Markets

Microsoft Research