Making YouTube Talk to the Blind

IBM set to unveil a new, open source Web accessibility tool.

At next week’s 2007 Technology and Persons With Disabilities Conference, IBM plans to formally present a new tool for Web browsers that will help people with visual disabilities access multimedia content on the Web.

"Just because someone is blind, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be enjoying YouTube or MySpace or anything else like that," said Frances West, director of the Worldwide Accessibility Center for IBM.

This could be a giant step forward in Web accessibility. You’d think that podcasting, video files, audio files, etc. would be ideal ways for people with visual disabilities to access content – and they are. The problem users have isn’t with the multimedia files themselves; it’s how those files are embedded in Web sites.

As today’s article in ZdnetIndia notes:

When streaming audio or video requires users to click a Play button using their mouse, there is usually no keystroke alternative, and the controls are randomly placed on the screen; If they can’t press Play, they can’t experience the multimedia.
In cases where the audio or video streams automatically once a page loads, the Web page’s audio often interferes with a user’s audio aids.

IBM’s tool will provide predefined shortcut keys that help users control how and when multimedia files play.

Although IBM promotes the tool as something being done for the good of society, they’re also keeping an eye on the huge population of aging baby boomers who have recently donned reading glasses and hearing aids.

And, as someone who holds her breath during every annual eye exam (Will the doctor utter the dreaded bifocal word this time?), I’m happy they’re making the effort.

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