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Making the Net More Inclusive

IBM hopes to help disabled and illiterate users surf the Web


Those of us who find the Internet indispensable in our work, home and public lives may sometimes forget that for some folks, it’s less than useful—it’s inaccessible. Though the Web has long offered valuable resources for elderly, disabled and illiterate people—like connections to multimedia education, government services and research materials—user interfaces have yet to bridge the gap between those resources and the populations who need them most.

IBM, the National Institute of Design of India (NID) and the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST) want to begin building that bridge. The three partners recently began exploring an open-source user-interface platform for mobile Web devices, in hopes of making them easier to use for disadvantaged people worldwide.

The project, part of the IBM's Open Collaborative Research program, which targets universities as research partners, focuses on two groups of underserved potential mobile-Web users: those who are illiterate and those who are disabled, particularly with limitations that commonly affect the elderly, such as compromised hearing or eyesight.

Mobile phones have reached phenomenal penetration when used for voice communication, with about 4.6 billion subscriptions worldwide, according to the International Telecommunications Union. Mobile Web use is rising, too: The ITU counts 640 million mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide, compared with 490 fixed broadband subscriptions.

IBM’s research initiative provides hope that illiterate, elderly and disabled users might take equal advantage of the mobile Web. “There are still many people in the world who have not yet received the benefit of the Internet revolution” Chieko Asakawa, IBM fellow and chief technology officer of IBM's accessibility research, said in an e-mail. “We are beginning to see the mobile phones empowering the underprivileged to connect and use information.”

IBM and NID researchers in India will study the needs and preferences of illiterate and semiliterate users.


Morgon Mae Schultz is a copy editor for MSP TechMedia

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Making the Net More Inclusive

IBM hopes to help disabled and illiterate users surf the Web

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