Saturday, March 31, 2007

IBM to help out the visually impaired

Technology and software giant IBM has announced plans to launch a multimedia browser to make audio and video content accessible to the visually challenged. Codenamed Accessibility Browser, or A-Browser, the software is being created by Dr. Chieko Asakawa, a blind IBM employee in Japan.

The A-Browser, according to the BBC and The Times, will give blind and partially-sighted people the same control over multimedia content that sighted people have using a mouse. IBM says it will be available later this year and hopes it will be free. Dr Asakawa says that she was becoming increasingly frustrated by the amount of web content that she was unable to access, and this propelled her to work on software friendly to the visually impaired.

For the time being, she and her team are concentrating on content that is compatible with Real Player and Windows Media Player. Using the A-Browser, a vision-impaired person can control media content by using predefined shortcut keys, rather than having to look for the control buttons using a mouse. The browser also allows video to be slowed down, speeded up and can accommodate an additional audio description or narration track that is often included to make films and television programmes more comprehensible to blind people.

The volume controls also allow the user to adjust the sound of various sources independently - for example the main audio track, an audio description track and output from a screen reader. "We're beginning to look at accessibility as a very important business area," said Frances West, director of IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Centre.

It is estimated that there are over 160 million blind and partially sighted people around the world who could benefit from such a development. IBM is yet to decide whether the A-Browser will have a worldwide launch or whether it will be introduced in selected countries first.


Post a Comment

<< Home