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RIA & Ajax: Article

IBM Makes AJAX-Based Applications More Accessible To Visually Impaired Users

Free Standards Group To Develop And Maintain The New Application Program Interfaces As An Open Standard

IBM announced that it has developed software interfaces that will make it easier for assistive technologies to provide those with disabilities access to advanced features in software programs -- such as editing functions, hyperlinks, charts and menus. These features can be found in rich browser applications based on DHTML, AJAX, and WAI-ARIA, and desktop applications based on the OpenDocument Format.

The new application program interfaces, designed for Windows and dubbed IAccessible2, have been accepted by the Free Standards Group, which will develop and maintain it as an open standard, available for all to use. Freedom Scientific, GW Micro, IBM, Mozilla Project, Oracle, SAP, and Sun Microsystems are the first to back the technology, and will be involved in developing it as an industry standard, or use it in products with which they are associated.

Assistive technologies, such as screen readers, enable the blind to use computers by verbalizing information such as text and graphics controls provided by an application such as a Web browser or word processing document. Until now, assistive technology programs have required constant, custom modifications to keep up with new versions of software applications, with new document formats and operating systems, and with the interactive way electronic information is presented today.

Furthermore, efforts to provide access to these types of applications have required non-standard means that may vary between applications and between versions of applications -- and are sometimes error-prone. Features and information in rich text documents that are difficult for those with disabilities to tap include headings and captions in tables, fonts, text colors, text selected for cutting and pasting, hyperlinks, and caret location.

Many browser-based Rich Internet Applications or Web 2.0 technologies, such as AJAX (which enable bursts of information, commentary, and live updates on a Web page), don't have standardized programming interfaces to communicate behind the scenes with assistive technologies. They cannot easily say what is occurring on-screen and how interactions on a static portion of a Web page may affect a "live" region on another. 

By standardizing the interfaces, and with the stewardship of the Free Standards Group, assistive technology vendors now have a more consistent, less expensive way to easily extend their software for new technologies and computer operating systems. Likewise, mainstream software application vendors can more easily extend their programming interfaces to communicate with assistive technologies.

IAccessible2 complements a proprietary application program interface, called Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA), and therefore lets companies continue to benefit from their Windows investments. IAccessible2 is based on open technology that IBM originally developed with Sun to make Java and Linux accessible to those with disabilities. Once implemented on Windows, it will be easier to adapt individual applications for accessibility on other operating systems, potentially creating business opportunities for multi-platform application developers.

More Stories By RIA News Desk

Ever since Google popularized a smarter, more responsive and interactive Web experience by using AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript + XML) for its Google Maps & Gmail applications, SYS-CON's RIA News Desk has been covering every aspect of Rich Internet Applications and those creating and deploying them. If you have breaking RIA news, please send it to RIA@sys-con.com to share your product and company news coverage with AJAXWorld readers.

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