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Feeling FineP in Sao Paulo, Brazil

IBM wins contract to develop accessible platform for vocational training

Sergio Borger is feeling "FineP" in Sao Paulo. He's a forty-six year old dynamo who feels twenty-eight. And, he is putting that youthful attitude and energy to work! Recently, Sergio and colleagues from all over the world collaborated to win a grant from FineP - Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos – the Brazilian government agency tasked with funding educational and scientific projects that will have lasting impact on the country's social development.

2012 is a long way from 1917 when the first Computing-Tabulating-Recording (CTR) agent was appointed in Brazil. In the intervening 95 years, the Brazilian government used CTR and later IBM machines in their railroad, public health, customs, and state departments. The Ministry of War, the Light and Power Company, the Brazilian Coffee Institute and the Bank of Brazil all became customers of IBM. IBM opened offices, manufacturing plants, scientific centers and, more recently, a research center, with a three-year contract that includes seven researchers.

IBM Research Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil
IBM Research Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Sergio and his team plan to research, develop, test, and produce an accessible platform that will perform vocational training for people who have disabilities. The platform will use profiling to enable people to specify how they want content presented. For example, people who are blind can request content to be read or translated to Braille. Sergio and his team plan to develop the system so that it knows its user's characteristics and is properly tailored so that it learns over time, to dynamically provide content when, where, and how the user wants. It's all about tailoring the content to the needs of the individual, and this applies to multiple types of disabilities.

When the platform is successfully completed, the team sees many applications. For example, the Brazilian Ministry of Labor requires its own government agencies and companies over a certain employment threshold to hire people with disabilities at a rate of least five percent of their workforces. Many companies and government agencies are having trouble complying because people with disabilities have been historically excluded and do not have the skills necessary to compete for these jobs. This platform can immediately help with this problem.

Sergio says that "this is extremely important because as Brazil grows there are people who have had in their past – motor, visual, hearing, cognitive, learning disabilities, situational disabilities, social disabilities – and they have been confined to a small group or community. They are not as much a part of our lives as they could be. The key is to enable those people to be placed in a position where they can compete for a job based on their abilities."

Brazil is hosting two upcoming events where the platform also could be of assistance – the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro. More than two million visitors will have at least one "situational disability" in that they may or may not speak Brazilian Portuguese. The team believes their platform can aid in both training the people who service the tourists and the tourists themselves. Sergio gives this example, "If a German futbol (soccer) fan wants to visit the famed Sugarloaf in Rio, he will need guide information in German. I envision adapting our platform to deliver content in German to many types of devices, including mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets."

The platform is still in the design stage, with members of the team investigating mobile devices and augmented reality, building linkages with philanthropic institutions and universities, investigating technologies from IBM Research Labs throughout the world, forming partnerships with assistive technology vendors, conducting ethnographic studies, and researching legal and technology issues. Sergio says, "What YouTube has done for media, we want to do for content. We want to create a platform so adaptive, so tuned to the user, that content – delivered to anyone, anywhere – will always be meaningful."

That sounds really fine!

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