IBM Looking Ahead at IT for Maturing Workers
- By John K. Waters
Healthcare providers and insurance companies won't be the only ones facing
challenges brought on by our aging population. Software developers are increasingly
called upon to provide applications and systems that take into account age-related
disabilities and other physical limitations.
Accessibility is a hot topic at IBM Research Labs, says Marc Goubert,
manager of IBM’s alphaWorks group.
"IBM has been studying this area for some time," Goubert says. "We’ve
got such a large population of our workforce maturing that it’s going
to be more and more important for businesses to provide them with information
technologies designed to keep them productive and happy in their work."
Accessibility is the latest research topic on IBM's alphaWorks Web site, the
company's emerging technology showcase for software developers. A component
of IBM’s developerWorks, alphaWorks is where Big Blue publishes early
implementations of technologies and research prototypes, primarily for early
Earlier this year, the company began using the site to provide a kind of window
on cutting-edge research underway in its research labs through what it calls
research topics. Research topics provide a means of organizing downloads, demonstrations,
articles and researcher profiles to help developers and academia learn about
these new technologies and trends. So far, IBM has established three research
topics: visualization, semantics, and now, accessibility.
IBM hopes accessibility will foster an ecosystem of developers, business partners
and academics who will make applications more accessible to the maturing workforce,
"We feel that early adopters who grasp this material can also help to
foster the real adoption and growth of the technology in a much more important
way," he says. "The early adopters who are taking a serious look at
accessibility will help to create a more accessible environment for the public."
IBM is showcasing four new technologies for the maturing workforce under the
accessibility rubric. These include:
- Keyboard Optimizer helps users adjust their keyboard accessibility settings
to suit their typing style. For example, it adjusts settings for one- or two-handed
typing, and for long or short key presses, characteristics that could be caused
by a disability. It allows users to demonstrate how they type, determines
what accessibility settings would be best, and sets them.
- Web Adaptation Technology dynamically adapts Web pages to meet the needs
of individuals with visual and motor limitations. The software can magnify
the contents of a Web page and adjust font, image, and page layout to improve
readability. It also features a text to speech feature for those with vision
impairments and eases typing for people who have difficulty with a keyboard—users
with tremors, arthritis or those recovering from a stroke—by detecting
errors and automatically adjusting keyboard sensitivity to accommodate typing.
This technology, which was developed with the input of seniors to be particularly
easy to use, is the basis of WebAdapt2Me, which is now being sold to companies,
organizations and educational institutions.
- Mouse Smoothing Software enables people who suffer from hand tremors to
eliminate excessive cursor movement, thereby allowing more normal use of PCs.
Users can download the software, and it filters out the shaking movements of
the hand—in a similar way to how the image stabilizing systems of some
camera lenses work. The software, which is designed to work with any PC and
operating system, can benefit users in homes and offices, as well as in public
places like libraries and universities.
- Reflexive User Interface Builder helps developers build applications that
feature popular GUIs that are still accessible to people with disabilities
and to mature workers. Powerful graphics pose a particular challenge
to users whose eyesight is fading from age or other causes. The tool is of
particular interest to developers that create and sell applications to government
agencies and must comply with sophisticated accessibility regulations.
IBM recently contributed accessibility software to the Mozilla Foundation's
Firefox Web browser. The company is also offering universities a free license
to a disability simulator that helps Web designers ensure their Web pages
are accessible and usable by the vision impaired.
IBM has impeccable timing: The new research topic hits the alphaWorks site
in October, which Congress has designated as National Disability Employment
Awareness Month. The legislators hope to increase the public's awareness of
the contributions and skills of American workers with disabilities.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached