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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 13:42 GMT 14:42 UK
IBM helps blind 'see' web video
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of Chieko Asakawa
Chieko Asakawa is leading the development team
Technology giant, IBM, is soon to launch a multimedia browser to make audio and video content accessible to people with vision impairments.

Codenamed the Accessibility Browser - or A-Browser - the software was created by a blind employee in Japan.

The A-Browser will give blind and partially-sighted people the same control over multimedia content that sighted people have using a mouse.

IBM says it will be available later this year and hopes it will be free.

The A-Browser is the creation of Dr Chieko Asakawa, a blind employee at IBM's research laboratory in Tokyo.

Dr Asakawa was becoming increasingly frustrated by the amount of web content that she was unable to access.

For the time being, she and her team are concentrating on content that is compatible with Real Player and Windows Media Player.


Screen readers and self-talking browsers are not able to deal with video and animation, some of which starts playing as soon as a page is loaded.

Photo of IBM's new media player
The player can be controlled entirely from the keyboard

This often interferes with the synthesised speech output from the screen-reader software.

Using the A-Browser, a vision-impaired person can control media content by using predefined shortcut keys, rather than having to look for the control buttons using a mouse.

The browser also allows video to be slowed down, speeded up and can accommodate an additional audio description or narration track that is often included to make films and television programmes more comprehensible to blind people.

The volume controls also allow the user to adjust the sound of various sources independently - for example the main audio track, an audio description track and output from a screen reader.

"We're beginning to look at accessibility as a very important business area," said Frances West, director of IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Centre.

"This is not just from a social responsibility standpoint, but with ageing baby-boomers we think that such technology could really benefit the population in general because all of us will be on this ageing journey."

The company plans to "open source" its new accessibility software in order to make it available to the largest possible number of people.

It is estimated that there are more than 160m blind and partially-sighted people around the world who could benefit from such a development.

IBM has not yet decided whether the A-Browser will have a worldwide launch or whether it will be introduced in selected countries first.

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