The number 100. Inside each zero is a picture. In the first is a blind IBMer, Michael Supa, who was hired in 1942. In the other zero is the international symbol of access or wheelchair symbol.

IBM has been committed to global inclusion, workforce diversity and technology innovation for people with disabilities for more than 100 years.

IBM Accessibility Research is dedicated to:

Helping clients embed accessibility across the entire enterprise — to better manage compliance and improve the user experience through any contact point.

Inventing new cognitive technologies that can supplement or enhance the human senses.

Ensuring that accessible technology is easier to use so designers and developers can streamline conformance of web and mobile applications to industry standards.

Giving the aging population (and their caregivers) more control over everyday activities and helping them stay more connected with friends and family.

History of accessibility innovations

IBM Accessibility Research is at the forefront of establishing IT standards, shaping government policies, and developing new accessibility innovations and industry solutions that enhance the human experience on any device so routines and interactions are more adaptive and intuitive.

Two young IBMers, a male and female, sitting in front of a PC. The female is sitting in a wheelchair.

Dedication to inclusion

IBM's long-standing commitment to people with disabilities began in 1914 when IBM hired its first disabled employee, 76 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). From its fair hiring practices, to its dedication to making products and services accessible, IBM has been an industry leader in the accessibility arena for more than 100 years.

Photo of Helen Keller smelling a rose.

Accolades in Diversity

On October 16, 1952 Helen Keller presented IBM President T.J. Watson, Sr. with the Migel Medal, as the American Association for the Blind honored Watson for his "outstanding service to the blind."

Photo of the IBM Shoebox, which had two components: the computer box that could recognize numbers and words and was connected to an adding machine.

Speech Recognition

In 1962, #IBM developed "Shoebox" - a forerunner of today's voice recognition systems. This device recognized and responded to 16 spoken words, including the ten digits from "0" through "9." When a number and command words such as "plus," "minus" and "total" were spoken, Shoebox instructed an adding machine to calculate and print answers to simple arithmetic problems.

Photo of a large keyboard connected by a cable to an IBM electric typewriter.

Remote Control Keyboard

IBM engineers developed a remote control keyboard to automatically reproduce typed text on an attached IBM electric typewriter. This machine enabled partially paralyzed patients who were confined in bed to use just a keyboard positioned on their laps to produce a series of documents simultaneously on a nearby typewriter. It also used paper on a continuous roll to eliminate frequent changes of single sheets.

Photo of a pair of hands typing on an electric typewriter. On the paper you can see that it is in braille.

Braille Typewriter

In 1968, IBM created the IBM Braille (Model D) Typewriter. It becomes the first powered Braille writing machine available for individual use. Its keyboard is almost identical to that of a standard typewriter.

Photo of a woman wearing glasses looking at a computer screen.

Formalizing Accessibility

In 1999, IBM created a group (which today is IBM Accessibility Research) with the mandate to help integrate accessibility more formally across IBM’s processes and product portfolio to help comply with government accessibility requirements.

Photo of a blind woman walking down a hallway using a white cane and a mobile device.

Guiding Accessibility Standards

IBM has long been active in many of the worldwide regulatory organizations that set accessibility standards. Participation within key advocacy groups continually influences best practices and helps define the new standards, including:

  • Vice-chair of the committee that developed recommendations on which the final Section 508 law was based.
  • Founding member and sponsor of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and continues to play key roles.
  • Worked with the National Council on Disability to release a report to the White House that calls for a Technology Bill of Rights for People with Disabilities.
Photo of a teenage boy sitting in a wheel chair, wearing headphones and looking at a tablet.

Inclusive Design

IBM has also made accessibility an integral function of IBM Design. Accessibility has been embedded in IBM Design Thinking, IBM Design Language, and IBM Designcamps (bootcamp training for newly hired designers). This introduces designers to accessibility principles, standards and regulations, methodologies, and the newest technologies, as well as empathy, so they can better understand how people of different abilities might use a product.

Photo of an elderly woman with short white hair looking at the camera with a serious look on her face.

Cognitive Eldercare

Now is the time to invest in, care for, protect, and empower our aging population so they can live longer, healthier and more independent lives. IBM believes that through a network of connected devices, sensors and cognitive systems family members and caregivers can proactively monitor the health and well-being of the world’s aging population.

Explore our accessibility best practices, tips and techniques, and new innovations.

Creating an inclusive, accessible world is about meeting the broad range of individual human needs so that everyone—including people with disabilities; the growing aging population; novice technology users; people with language, learning and literacy challenges; or any individual facing a situational impairment while using a device—can make a greater impact in school, at work or through life.