IBM aims to help impaired access video content

Researcher discusses IBM's tool that aims to enable visually impaired users to access multimedia content online

What is the project's status today? Is it ready for download by interested users? When will it be possible for others to try it?

We plan to open source this tool in the near future, and once that is done, we hope to discuss in detail how to make it available for downloading by interested users. Technically speaking, basic functions of the tool are almost ready to be tried out by users, but first, we would like to conduct some usability tests to make sure to what extent the tool should provide information to users.

Using the program, a visually impaired user can also use screen-reader software that will describe what is occurring on the screen in a video? How does that work?

This tool can work with screen reading software. Screen reader software is an eye for visually impaired users. Without having the tool, users face a hard time not being able to listen to screen reader software since the streaming video [soundtracks] disturb it. The tool lets users use shortcut key operations to control the level of both sounds from screen reader software and from the video soundtrack. Also, users can use shortcut operations to adjust volume of both sounds.

How has the tool kit changed your use of the Internet so far? Can you describe how it has enhanced or changed your experience with these forms of media?

It has changed it a lot. Before having this tool, I avoided pages with multimedia content since I knew I will hardly get information from such Web sites. This tool has given me opportunities to access Web sites, and it made me realize that I was missing a lot of good information [that] has been made available on the Net. By not bothering with multimedia rich contents, I simply was not aware of that fact, and the tool made me realize it. I now know good educational animation content made available as part of the Japanese e-government initiative, I can understand a lot more about Disney, which I sincerely adore, and I can now review online TV news while I am on business trips to update myself in real time of what's going on around the globe.

It's wonderful to be able to access video and animation on the Net to broaden my horizon. But, to make that truly happen, we are hoping that volunteers, content creators, developers and content providers show their interest in creating metadata [that] can be attached to the tool to help make users' experience of visiting the multimedia content sites more comfortable and seamless.

What other research and additional features can you envision being brought into the tool kit in the future? Are there still capabilities you'd like to see added for users?

I do think we need to provide easier methods to author metadata to help increase the metadata, which will provide smooth and comfortable user experience as users visit Web sites. Also, we want to provide ways to help developers to learn and check their content's accessibility easily and effectively. We are trying to make other media players controllable, such as QuickTime and RealPlayer. It will widen coverage of the tool.

Are you using this application regularly now in your Web browsing?

I am using this tool to access multimedia content, such as YouTube and news TV sites in my leisure hours. But currently, I am usually using it to test the tool. While testing, I am finding every day how multimedia content pages are designed to be visually attractive, but are not being developed with any consideration of accessibility. It will still take some time [for visually impaired users] to completely enjoy some multimedia sites. However, we want to try our best to make it happen.

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Todd R. Weiss

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