A new world of access

IBM has unveiled a talking Web browser that opens the doors of the Internet to blind and visually impaired computer users. The new software, called Home Page Reader for Windows, will let these users surf the Net by reading aloud the information found on a Web site. Originally written in Japanese, Home Page Reader will soon be available in English. The software uses IBM’s ViaVoice OutLoud U.S. English text-to-speech technology, and Netscape Navigator to “speak” Web-based information in a complete, clear and easy-to-understand format.

Developed at IBM’s Tokyo Research Laboratory, the product was built with a unique understanding of the needs of the blind and visually impaired computer user. Chieko Asakawa, a blind researcher at IBM Tokyo, played a key role in the early development of the software.

Home Page Reader recognizes HTML tags, the programming language used to design Web pages, to accurately translate text, tables, graphic descriptions, text in column format and data fields. Blind users will now obtain the same information as sighted users. The software uses a simple 10-key numeric keypad interface for navigation, and a male voice rds text while a female voice reads links. A fast-forward function allows users to skim Web pages to locate information quickly, and the software also offers a integrated email. Priced at US$149, Home Page Reader will be available next January.