by Elizabeth Montalbano

IBM Project Makes Web More Accessible to the Blind

Feb 01, 20072 mins
Open Source

When Massachusetts’ government decided to use OpenDocument Format (ODF) as the default document file format throughout its agencies, a key concern was that ODF would not allow the visually impaired to use assistive computer technologies.

IBM recently announced it has helped solve that problem, developing technology that lets applications based on ODF communicate well with products that the blind use to access visual information on PC screens.

In an effort dubbed Project Missouri, after the “Show-Me State,” IBM has developed a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) collectively called IAccessible2. These APIs make it easy for visuals in applications based on ODF and other Web technologies to be interpreted by screen readers that reproduce information verbally, IBM says.

In the past, screen-reading technology has struggled to keep up with cutting-edge development and file formats such as ODF, Ajax and DHTML (dynamic hypertext markup language), says IBM spokesman Ari Fishkind.

IBM has donated its work on Project Missouri to the Free Standards Group, a nonprofit that promotes open-source software. Other companies working on IAccessible2 development include Oracle, SAP and Sun.

Mozilla intends to integrate IAccessible2 into its Firefox Web browser.

ODF is currently in competition with Microsoft’s Open XML file format (the basis of Office 2007) to become the industry’s default format.