Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Irish web sites employing built-in assistive technology

There is an interesting bit of assistive technology news discussed in a news article on the Irish Developers Network web site. What I think makes it interesting is that the assistive technology is being promoted to be employed by the developers of the web content, instead of on the users’ computers.

According to the article, an Irish retail banking institution is employing
Browsealoud technology
on its web site.

The Browsealoud technology reads the web content aloud while also highlighting the word that is being read. This technology is being targeted towards users who have learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, as well as people who have mild vision impairments. The article also mentioned how those who spoke other languages could benefit from the software.

Additionally, the article also mentions other entities aside from the bank who have begun employing this particular software, which means it is not a unique quirk of implementation.

Some of the latest features this software allows the webmaster to consider:
• Dual Colour Highlighting making it easier for web users to read and interact online, thereby, improving comprehension.
• High Quality Voices, customisable by the webmaster and adjustable reading speeds to suit individual requirements.
• Online dictionary allowing Users to look up the definitions of words.
• Ability to save online content and listen to it offline through the MP3 facility
• Ability to have selected text magnified and read aloud to them.
• continuous reading option allows Whole pages read aloud at a time.
• Hyperlinks, HTML, Java and PDF documents can also be read with the technology.

There was also a strong statement about web accessibility which was made in the article, but was not attributed to any individual, so I’ll assume it was the opinion of the article’s author. It is a quote worth repeating.
“Website accessibility should be a concern for everyone, from public establishments to big and small corporations. Making sure that website visitors can access all information which has been carefully written and selected for an organisation’s website is of key importance in order to ensure that customers and clients are fully informed and receive the correct messages.”

I am an advocate for web accessibility and will speak up in whatever forums I need to do so to bring awareness to others. While the assistive technology this software employs is not new, and is not the first time I’ve heard of it being employed by the producer of a web site, it is the first time I have seen its employment on a large scale project. Maybe they have the right idea here. Make the content accessible in the first place. Granted, this software makes only the one web site accessible, but if all sites employed such insight, the entire web could be accessible.

Finally, while this software would bring access to the web, it would not make other assistive technology obsolete. There would still be a need to use magnifiers and screen readers to access other programs aside from the web browser. Still, it is a good innovation to see.


Assistive technology said...

This isn't the first time I've read about Ireland doing something very progressive in aiding the comfort of the disabled. My hat's off to them.


Ron Graham said...

I can’t say that I’ve previously heard of any news about the Irish providing assistance to people with disabilities, assistive technology or otherwise, but haven’t looked for it either. I laud innovation and leadership and these folks are leading the way.