RealTime IT News

IBM Magnifies Talking Browser

With the Baby Boomer generation inching closer to retirement age, providing tools to keep them productive should be on the lists of many companies. IBM is one such company paying attention to this segment, as it earlier this week released the latest version of Home Page Reader, its talking Web browser.

The company first debuted Home Page Reader in October 1998 to address the needs of blind, visually impaired or elderly people using the Internet.

New features in this release include:

  • A new desktop reader with keyboard navigation and speech output on Microsoft's Windows applications, as well as properly tagged Adobe Reader 6.01 documents and Flash 7 movies.
  • A customizable user interface, allowing users to change fonts, type and color.
  • A zoom feature to magnify everything on the Web page.
  • A developer's help guide to show how the program handles HTML, JavaScript , PDF files (for the Adobe Reader) and Macromedia Flash elements. Online tutorials are also available.

The company sees a lot of growth opportunity for creating software that makes it easier for this segment of Internet users. According to a statistic noted by IBM officials from the National Organization on Disabilities, there are 54 million disabled people in the U.S. with $225 billion in disposable income.

"The aging population issue is becoming more and more prevalent, even in the United States," said Frances West, director of IBM's worldwide accessibility center. "We know that in the United States there are 76 million Baby Boomers, a quarter of them will be entering the aging category by 2006."

She also noted the fact the U.S. government and governments overseas are making accessibility a mandate within corporations.

In August 2004, N.Y. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer reached a settlement with Priceline.com and Ramada.com over their Web sites, which weren't accessible to blind and visually impaired Internet users. This, he said, was a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The site owners agreed to implement accessibility standards for use with software like screen readers.

"Accessible web sites are the wave of the future and the right thing to do," Spitzer said in a statement following the settlement. "We applaud these companies for taking responsible and proper steps to make their web sites accessible to the blind and visually impaired. We urge all companies who have not done so to follow their lead."

IBM has a tool in its emerging technologies alphaWorks Web site called aDesigner, a tool that lets Web site developers test their sites to see if they abide by accessibility standards.

A 30-day trial of the Home Page Reader 3.02 is available here. Current Home Page Reader customers can download a 30-day trial of the latest version also.

The software is only compatible on the Windows 2000 and Windows XP operating system platforms.