Other Accessibility Tools
Many additional accessibility products are available to assist people with disabilities. This section describes a variety of accessibility products, including hardware items and advanced technologies.
A braille keyboard, in addition to having each key labeled with the letter it represents, has the equivalent braille symbol printed on the key. Braille keyboards are combined most often with a speech synthesizer or a braille display, so users can interact with the computer to verify that their typing is correct.
Speech synthesis is another research-intensive area that will benefit people with dis-abilities. Speech synthesizers have been used for many years to aid those who are unable to communicate verbally. However, the growing popularity of the Web has prompted a great deal of work in the field of speech synthesis and speech recognition. These technolo-gies are allowing individuals with disabilities to use computers more than ever before. The development of speech synthesizers is also enabling the improvement of other technolo-gies, such as VoiceXML and AuralCSS (www.w3.org/TR/REC-CSS2/ aural.html). These tools allow people with visual impairment and the illiterate to access Web sites.
Despite the existence of adaptive software and hardware for people with visual impair-ments, the accessibility of computers and the Internet is still hampered by the high costs, rapid obsolescence and unnecessary complexity of current technology. Moreover, almost all software currently available requires installation by a person who can see. Ocularis is a project launched in the open-source community to help address these problems. Open source software for people with visual impairments already exists, and although it is often superior to its proprietary, closed-source counterparts, it has not yet reached its full potential. Ocularis ensures that the blind can use the Linux operating system fully, by providing an Audio User Interface (AUI). Products that integrate with Ocularis include a word pro-cessor, calculator, basic finance application, Internet browser and e-mail client. A screen reader will also be included with programs that have a command-line interface. The official Ocularis Web site is located at ocularis.sourceforge.net.
People with visual impairments are not the only beneficiaries of the effort being made to improve markup languages. People with hearing impairments also have a number of tools to help them interpret auditory information delivered over the Web, such as Synchro-nized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL™), discussed in Chapter 33, Multimedia. This markup language is designed to add extra tracks—layers of content found within a single audio or video file—to multimedia content. The additional tracks can contain closed captioning.
Technologies also are being designed to help people with severe disabilities, such as quadriplegia, a form of paralysis that affects the body from the neck down. One such tech-nology, EagleEyes, developed by researchers at Boston College (www.bc.edu/ eagleeyes), is a system that translates eye movements into mouse movements. Users move the mouse cursors by moving their eyes or heads and thereby can control computers.
The company CitXCorp is developing new technology that translates Web information through the telephone. Information on a specific topic can be accessed by dialing the des-ignated number. The new software is expected to be made available to users for $10 per month. For more information on regulations governing the design of Web sites to accom-modate people with disabilities, visit www.access-board.gov.
In alliance with Microsoft, GW Micro, Henter-Joyce and Adobe Systems, Inc. are also working on software to aid people with disabilities. JetForm Corp also is accommodating the needs of people with disabilities by developing server-based XML software. The new software allows users to download a format that best meets their needs.
There are many services on the Web that assist e-business owners in designing their Web sites to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. For additional information, the U.S. Department of Justice (www.usdoj.gov) provides extensive resources detailing legal issues and current technologies related to people with disabilities.
These examples are just a few of the accessibility projects and technologies that cur-rently exist. For more information on Web and general computer accessibility, see the resources provided in Section 34.14, Internet and World Wide Web Resources.
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