Open Source Leaps Toward Accessible Applications

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2006-12-15

Thanks to efforts of IBM and the Free Standards Group, new open standardized interfaces, called IAccessible2, combined with the Open Document Format, will make it much easier for developers to make open-source applications accessible to computer users with disabilities.

Proponents of ODF have long faced opposition from the blind and others who believed that the use of ODF would bar them from work. This was a more than theoretical concern, since groups like the Massachusetts government were only willing to use ODF as their default document file format if visually impaired users could use it.

IBM developed the iAccessible2 APIs (application programming interfaces) with the assistance of Sun, Oracle and SAP AG. These APIs make it easy for developers to create applications that can present text and other data to "screen readers," which read them aloud to disabled users. Thus, iAcessible2 will provide an open API bridge between applications like OpenOffice and assistive technologies such as JAWS, MAGic and Windows Eyes.

IBM spokesperson Ari Fishkind explained that screen-reading technology has been hard-pressed to keep up with new file formats such as ODF, AJAX (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) and DHTML (Dynamic HyperText Markup Language).

IAccessible2 does more than just read text. It also enables developers to create applications that can translate charts, pictures, and other AJAX and DHTML graphics to the visually impaired through their reader applications, according to Fishkind.

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