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IBM Project Aims to Help Blind Use ODF Applications

By Elizabeth Montalbano, InfoWorld

When Massachusetts' government decided to use Open Document Format (ODF) as the default document file format throughout its agencies, a key concern was that ODF would not allow the visually impaired to use assistive computer technologies.  On Wednesday, IBM said it has helped solve that problem by developing technology that will allow applications based on ODF to better communicate with products used by the blind to access visual information on computer screens. Through Project Missouri, IBM developed application programming interfaces, (APIs) collectively called iAccessible2. These APIs will make it easy for visuals in applications based on ODF and other Web technologies to be interpreted by screen readers that reproduce that information verbally, IBM said. IBM spokesman Ari Fishkind said that in the past it has been hard for screen-reading technology to keep up with the advent of cutting-edge development and file formats such as ODF, AJAX (asynchronous Javascript and XML) and DHTML (dynamic hypertext markup language). The latter two technologies allow increasingly complex visuals to be rendered in Web browsers, and those are difficult to translate for screen readers. iAccessible2 not only will help ODF communicate better with screen readers that assist blind computer users, but it will also allow charts, pictures and other visuals based on AJAX and DHTML to be discerned by the visually impaired through those readers. "It's like a universal decoder ring," he said of iAccessible2. The technology is based on interfaces IBM originally developed with Sun Microsystems to make programs on Java and Linux platforms accessible to the blind.

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