Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Night 21° Clear
News >  Business

New software is a sight for sore eyes

K. Oanh Ha Knight Ridder

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Judy Malk, 76, has such poor vision that she needed to lean in and view Web pages with her magnifying glass.

“You didn’t want to stay at the computer very long because it’s not very comfortable,” said Malk, who lives in Campbell, Calif.

Now she’s surfing the Internet night and day, doing online banking and buying books for her daughter-in-law in Hawaii — using IBM software designed just for seniors like her.

The company’s Web Adaptation Technology software allows Malk and others with vision impairments and disabilities to manipulate Web pages to suit their needs. The software can read aloud what’s on the page, magnify text, block distracting screen backgrounds or animation as well as make the keyboard easier to use.

The technology is also now being rolled out for use by children with learning disabilities and physical impairments, according to IBM.

“It reduces the fear factor that inherently comes with the new paradigm of the Internet,” said Kristin Fabos, executive director of SeniorNet, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based nonprofit that trains seniors how to use computers and technology. SeniorNet worked with IBM to develop and roll out the software at its centers nationally, but it’s also available on the organization’s Web site. It costs $40 for an individual to join SeniorNet for a year. IBM offers a downloadable evaluation copy of the program on its Web site.

The Web Adaptation Technology addresses common problems experienced by seniors.

Sufferers of arthritis or tremors, for example, may hold down a key too long and get repeats of the same letter. The software automatically eliminates key repeats. If someone drags his or her fingers across the keyboard because of poor coordination, it filters out the jumble of letters that would normally appear on the screen.

“Typing problems change not just day-to-day but even in the same session as they get tired,” said Vicki Hanson, manager of IBM’s Accessibility Research Group, which developed the technology. “The software is monitoring how you’re typing and automatically adjusts to your typing pattern.” The text of Web pages can also be reformatted into a single column of magnified text, eliminating the need to scroll to the right when text is enlarged.

In 2002, IBM installed Web Adaptation Technology at SeniorNet centers across the country. Earlier this year, the software was put on the Web download.

IBM gives free access to the technology through its nonprofit partners, said Jocelyn Zona, the company’s community relations manager for the western United States. There are 10,000 users of the technology, and the company plans to make it available to many more, Zona said.

Hanson’s group, based in New York, is now working with children with physical and learning disabilities to add even more features.

One downside of the software is that Web pages don’t retain their look and feel.

“It never looks as good when you change it,” Hanson said. “But if you can’t read it the way it was designed, it’s no good to you.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.