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IBM Helps Disabled Users Get More From Assistive Technology, on More Computer Platforms

IBM Gives New Technology to Free Standards Group to Maintain as Industry Standard; Freedom Scientific, GW Micro, Mozilla, Oracle, SAP and Sun Are First to Back the Technology

ARMONK, NY - 14 Dec 2006: IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it has developed software interfaces that will make it easier for assistive technologies to provide those with disabilities access to advanced features in software programs -- such as editing functions, hyperlinks, charts and menus. These features can be found in rich browser applications based on DHTML, AJAX, and WAI-ARIA, and desktop applications based on the OpenDocument Format.

The new application program interfaces, designed for Windows and dubbed IAccessible2, have been accepted by the Free Standards Group, which will develop and maintain it as an open standard, available for all to use. Freedom Scientific, GW Micro, IBM, Mozilla Project, Oracle, SAP, and Sun Microsystems are the first to back the technology, and will be involved in developing it as an industry standard, or use it in products with which they are associated.

Assistive technologies, such as screen readers, enable the blind to use computers by verbalizing information such as text and graphics controls provided by an application such as a Web browser or word processing document. Until now, assistive technology programs have required constant, custom modifications to keep up with new versions of software applications, with new document formats and operating systems, and with the interactive way electronic information is presented today.

Furthermore, efforts to provide access to these types of applications have required non-standard means that may vary between applications and between versions of applications -- and are sometimes error-prone. Features and information in rich text documents that are difficult for those with disabilities to tap include headings and captions in tables, fonts, text colors, text selected for cutting and pasting, hyperlinks, and caret location.

Many browser-based Rich Internet Applications or Web 2.0 technologies, such as AJAX (which enable bursts of information, commentary, and live updates on a Web page), don't have standardized programming interfaces to communicate behind the scenes with assistive technologies. They cannot easily say what is occurring on-screen and how interactions on a static portion of a Web page may affect a "live" region on another.

By standardizing the interfaces, and with the stewardship of the Free Standards Group, assistive technology vendors now have a more consistent, less expensive way to easily extend their software for new technologies and computer operating systems. Likewise, mainstream software application vendors can more easily extend their programming interfaces to communicate with assistive technologies.

IAccessible2 complements a proprietary application program interface, called Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA), and therefore lets companies continue to benefit from their Windows investments. IAccessible2 is based on open technology that IBM originally developed with Sun to make Java and Linux accessible to those with disabilities. Once implemented on Windows, it will be easier to adapt individual applications for accessibility on other operating systems, potentially creating business opportunities for multi-platform application developers.

This effort was accelerated by the need to produce accessible productivity software based on the OpenDocument Format (ODF) to meet the needs of municipalities such as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which has mandated the use of open standards such as ODF. The technology makes browsers such as Firefox, and formats such as ODF -- used in open source productivity suites like OpenOffice.org or commercial messaging environments such as IBM Workplace -- relate more automatically and more fully to assistive technologies such as JAWS, MAGic or Windows Eyes.

This work was performed by IBM engineers across two continents involving IBM Lotus engineers in Beijing and Boston, as well as accessibility experts in IBM's Emerging Technologies group and in IBM Research, many of whom have developed assistive technologies and performed work to make Java, Linux, Firefox, and Rich Internet Applications more accessible. The work was validated by Freedom Scientific and GW Micro, both of which worked closely with IBM developers. Both Freedom Scientific and GW Micro will support IAccessible2 in products designed for blind and low-vision users.

Between 750 million and 1 billion of the world's six billion people have a speech, vision, mobility, hearing or cognitive disability, according to the World Health Organization.

American Association of People with Disabilities

"The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) recognizes IBM for its development of IAccessible2, a new collection of Application Program Interfaces (APIs) that were designed to provide a richer user experience for technology users with a broad range of disabilities, and its donation to the Free Standards Group. We were also pleased to see IBM's involvement of assistive technology vendors in IAccessible2's design and implementation in Lotus' Productivity Tools that support ODF, and applaud IBM's collaboration with the Free Standards Group to allow for inclusive innovation on accessibility through an open standard. IBM continues to show its industry leadership to enrich the lives of all persons with disabilities and to aid developers in making it a reality."

-- Andrew J. Imparato, AAPD President and CEO, AAPD

American Foundation for the Blind

"The American Foundation for the Blind applauds IBM for its latest efforts to ensure equal access to technology for those with vision loss. IBM has made real commitments to ensure that new technologies will not exclude those who use screen readers and magnification. By taking a leadership role in creating both new technology and at the same time including accessibility, IBM meets the highest standards for responsible development practices. AFB appreciates our on-going relationship with IBM, which continues to expand possibilities for those with vision loss."

-- Paul Schroeder, Vice President, Programs and Policy Group, AFB

CAST

"The IAccessible2 software is very forward-looking and opens up a huge frontier for students with disabilities. It provides a critical tool for schools that are using the OpenDocument Format, Web applications and Web resources to ensure that resulting materials are accessible to the broadest spectrum of students. This is a significant contribution to those communities.

"With technologies like IAccessible2, we will build accessibility into open source and open standards-based educational tools and materials right from the start. For example, there is a challenge to provide browsers that can talk aloud. IAccessibility2 software may help developers enable open source browsers with embedded and intelligent text-to-speech technology. It will help create software that is truly useful for all students, especially those with disabilities."

-- Chuck Hitchcock, Chief Officer, Policy and Technology, Director, NIMAS Technical Assistance Center CAST, Inc.

Freedom Scientific

"Freedom Scientific's participation with the IBM team during the design of the API, and implementation phase with IBM's office suite, has gone a long way in demonstrating the benefits and possibilities of an open standard. All users of assistive technology will certainly benefit from the successful implementation of this solution by application developers. The benefits of the IAccessible2 work will greatly improve access, offering a far more robust interface than MSAA alone. We welcome the opportunity of expanding our support to applications in the future with both JAWS and MAGic at a much faster pace, with a greater emphasis on usability, in the variety of choices the ODF will offer going forward."

-- Eric Damery, Vice President, Product Management Software, Freedom Scientific, Inc.

Free Standards Group

"IBM's contribution of IAccessible2 will enable the Free Standards Group to extend the benefits of free and open technology to the overwhelming majority of computer users with disabilities, regardless of their OS platform. Users will have more accessible applications to choose from, developers will find it substantially easier to support multiple operating environments, and institutional IT departments will find it easier to meet legal mandates for accessibility. We are extremely proud to work with IBM on this important open standard."

-- Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Free Standards Group

GW Micro

"MSAA provides a great base for allowing applications to make themselves accessible. However, over the years it has become apparent that MSAA lacks important information needed to make certain elements accessible. IBM has taken the lead on extending MSAA, using the new IAccessible2 interface. IAccessible2 resolves the major holes left with MSAA by enhancing it, not replacing it. Switching from MSAA to other standards, such as UIA, is possible in the future, but is likely to be a very expensive endeavor. IAccessible2 allows you to keep existing MSAA support but then allows you to enhance in areas that MSAA falls short. GW Micro has been working with IBM to fully integrate IAccessible2 into its screen reader, Window-Eyes. Having Window-Eyes support IAccessible2 allows application developers to test using serious accessibility tools. IAccessible2 completes MSAA."

-- Doug Geoffray, Vice President of Development, GW Micro

IBM

"IAccessible2 is a key ingredient in the convergence of rich Web and desktop applications. It supports usable access for people with disabilities on Windows, while reducing developers' efforts to support accessibility on other operating systems. The Free Standards Group's acceptance to make it an open standard will speed up the process to make future industry innovations accessible."

-- Rich Schwerdtfeger, Distinguished Engineer, SWG Accessibility Architect/Strategist, Chair, IBM Accessibility Architecture Review Board

Mozilla Project

"IAccessible2 removes unnecessary accessibility API differences between Linux and Windows and allows one code base to support both platforms. The completeness of IAccessible2 will help eliminate the need for workarounds in assistive technologies and will enable developers to create rich, accessible desktop and Web applications based on cross-platform Mozilla-supported technologies like HTML, XUL, Javascript, and AJAX. Because of these strengths the Mozilla project will use IAccessible2 to enable top-notch accessibility in its technology base and in end user products such as the Mozilla Firefox web browser."

-- Frank Hecker, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation

National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science

"We are pleased that IAccessible2 will provide access to richly formatted documents, complex tables, and relationships between objects, which is a critical requirement for Web 2.0 applications. It is also good that other companies developing applications with complex document support across multiple platforms have shown significant interest in implementing IAccessible2. NFBCS looks forward to the time when IAccessible2 will be a key accessibility feature in applications that are fully accessible to the blind. The work that IBM has already completed to get IAccessible2 up and running deserves our support and commendation."

-- Curtis Chong, President, NFBCS

OpenDocument Format Alliance

"The additional accessibility capabilities provided by the new software interfaces will help advance ODF's acceptance by governments around the world."

-- Marino Marcich, Managing Director, ODF Alliance

Oracle

"Oracle applauds IBM's contribution of IAccessible2 accessibility technology to the Free Standards Group, significantly advancing accessibility for enterprise applications. This effort is consistent with Oracle's commitment to serving customer requirements with open standards and our work in open standards forums such as W3C to address IT solutions for those with disabilities. As a platinum FSG member, we look forward to working with industry partners and the accessibility community to evolve the IAccessible2 standard and improve the quality and usability of AJAX-style user interfaces."

-- Connie Myers, Accessibility Program Manager, Oracle

Royal National Institute of the Blind (UK)

"The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) is proud to support IBM's contribution of IAccessible2 to the Free Standards Group (FSG). IAccessible2 provides for the general expansion of Windows accessibility and multi-platform opportunities. As both developers and Assistive Technology Vendors (ATVs) contributed to its design, we feel it will make life easier for both constituencies. By design, IAccessible2 allows developers and ATVs to expand on today's Windows accessibility investment and, through the FSG, allows both parties to provide for accessibility earlier for future industry innovations.

"Building on the great work by Microsoft, the idea of multi-platform accessibility bringing the same benefits to all platforms as those derived by users of Microsoft products, are ever closer. We endorse the work of the alliance and hope that closer collaboration and further developments continue."

-- Steve Tyler, Senior Strategic Manager for Digital Technology, RNIB

SAP

"SAP appreciates IBM's work on IAccessible2, as this API will reduce the complexity for assistive technology vendors, application software vendors and, finally, end users alike. The interface will eventually allow every software vendor to develop better and more robust accessible applications in the future, especially rich browser applications. In addition, we expect increased compatibility of application software and assistive technologies at reduced costs -- for the benefit of all the users who rely on assistive technologies."

-- Gisbert Loff, Director SAP User Experience

Sun

"Sun applauds IBM's contribution of a rich, extensible accessibility framework for Microsoft Windows to the Free Standards Group, where it will join to follow the lead of the UNIX accessibility standardization process already underway. These additions, rooted in work with Sun to make Java and GNU/Linux accessible to those with disabilities, will make it significantly easier to adapt individual applications for accessibility across operating systems."

-- Juan Carlos Soto, Vice President, Technology and Partner Marketing, Sun Microsystems

Contact(s) information

Ari Fishkind
IBM Media Relations
914-766-3210
fishkind@us.ibm.com

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