IBM updates Web software for visually impaired

With version 3.0 of the Home Page Reader software, IBM added Javascript support to give visually-impaired users a smoother ride when cruising the Web. While past versions of the software often made the purchasing or selling of goods online very difficult, IBM said. The Javascript functions should ease the user's experience and lead to more consistent levels of transaction completion.

"The Javascript support means that e-commerce is now quite a realistic task," said Guido Corona, user interface designer for IBM's accessibility centre, in an interview.

Corona said the Home Page Reader can now speak all of the information on a Web page, including text, tables, graphics descriptions, text in column formats, data input fields, forms and image maps. Corona pointed to advanced option settings in the latest version of the software that lets a user set preferences for how a link might be distinguished from a page-heading or how a user might choose to receive the information presented in a table. Corona said the new options make surfing more pleasurable and efficient than in than past and added that improving Web navigation stood as one Big Blue's major goals with this release.

"We have done a lot of work in tuning the navigation," said Corona. "We blind individuals need to navigate in a variety of ways."

Version 3.0 now supports Brazilian Portuguese, Finish, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese, in addition to the previous support of US English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Japanese. With the latest software, a user might use German as the default language when surfing the Web and then receive notice when a Spanish language page is encountered. The software will automatically detect the presence of a Spanish page and begin speaking the information in that tongue. The key settings, however, will remain in German.

"At this time the product is targeting the Windows platform," Corona said.

Users are encouraged to use Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser in conjunction with IBM's ViaVoice Outloud text -to-speech technology. Version 3.0 can run on Windows 98, Millennium, and Windows 2000. Corona said there are no current plans to develop the software for Macs but added that if the market shows a need for Mac support IBM will consider it.

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