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Thursday, 27 December, 2001, 09:04 GMT
Digital tools for the disabled
Graphic, BBC
BBC Go Digital's Jon Wurtzel casts a wry eye over developments in the world of technology

From June 2001, all US Government workplaces had to be accessible to the disabled in the physical and in the virtual world.

To enable this, US law Section 508 makes it mandatory that government computer hardware, software and websites can be used by the 120,000 or so disabled federal employees.

ATM, Triton
New Triton ATM promises cutting edge services
This ambitious law also means the government must ensure its enormous network of websites, with well over a million pages, are laid out in such a way that makes access easy for any disabled user.

With estimates that the federal government will spend between $85m and $691m annually on new technology to create disabled access, the government is stimulating private companies to develop products to suit these needs.

As there is no current default product that addresses these issues, there is an opportunity for upstart software developers to challenge the big players in the software market.

Looking beyond government offices, corporations are increasingly finding themselves having to incorporate technology to enable access for the disabled, though often after much campaigning and a number of lawsuits.

Cash on voice demand

In March 2000, Bank of America, the largest bank in the US, agreed to fit over 120,000 Automated Teller Machines, (ATMs), with interfaces that helped visually impaired users.

This is a critical, though not altogether altruistic, move, as banks now expect their customers to use more and more services via such ATMs.

To respond to this need, a California-based company called Triton Systems has just launched a new ATM that promises cutting edge services for the visually impaired.

With a new text-to-speech and interface, the machine guides users on how to operate it through headphones that can be plugged into a jack in the ATM.

Taken together, these initiatives point out how thoroughly digital technology has permeated life for all Americans.

Being able to successfully operate machinery at work, access government information, and use a bank's facilities are critical tasks for all citizens.

As computers are increasingly the medium for carrying out these tasks, it is important that everyone can successfully access them.

In introducing US law section 508, the federal government is acknowledging that discrimination is as odious in the virtual world as it is in the physical.

See also:

03 Nov 99 | Health
Internet first for disabled
27 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Disabled go to work on the internet
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