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12/14/2006
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New IBM Software Will Help The Blind Use Computers

The software will let applications such as Web browsers and document programs communicate with other programs that convert text to speech.

IBM on Thursday unveiled software that the company says will allow computers to more efficiently convert on-screen text to audio for visually impaired users.

The software, IAccessible2, is an application programming interface that applications such as Web browsers and document programs can use to communicate with other programs that convert text to speech. IBM says the API is standards based and has been accepted by a wide range of key industry players, including Oracle, SAP, and Mozilla Project.

The API is designed to help so-called assistive technologies work even with complex Web sites that have been designed with state-of-the-art tools like Ajax, which enables bursts of information that can cause errors in automated screen readers such as Jaws and Windows Eyes.

IBM says wide acceptance of the standard will ensure that impaired users won't have to change or upgrade their assistive technologies each time they install a new version of a browser or office program. The company says the IAccessible2 API has been endorsed by the Free Standards Group.

The development of software such as IAccessible2 is imperative "to ensure equal access to technology for those with vision loss," said Paul Schroeder, VP for programs and policy at the American Foundation for The Blind, in a statement.

Earlier this month, a United Nations sponsored survey showed that only three out of 100 Web sites meet the minimum standards for accessibility to the blind.

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