A pilot project launched Tuesday in Newfoundland is one of a series across Canada that are giving disabled Canadians greater access to new technology.
The new project, supported by Industry Canada, will make an assistive technology service available to people with disabilities or limited literacy at 14 public Internet access sites in the St. John's area.
The technology, called Web-4-All, was developed by the University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Centre with the support of Industry Canada. It enables a wide range of people from seniors with failing eyesight to people with limited movement to use the Internet on public computers.
It's about making technology fit people and not the other way around, Lawrence Euteneier, manager of Industry Canada's Web accessibility office, told globeandmail.com on Tuesday.
With Web-4-All software, blind people or those who have trouble reading can have type faces magnified or Web pages read aloud. And people with limited dexterity who find it difficult to use a regular mouse can use tools and displays that make it easier to manipulate.
All Web-4-All users are given a smart card, about the size of a credit card, that contains individual preferences such as read text aloud or magnify type faces. Then every time they log onto a public computer at one of the pilot sites they insert their card into a reader and the computer adjusts to their preferences.
Industry Canada's Web-4-All pilot projects are being funded through the government's on-line initiative. An evaluation of the project is due next year.
Some technology companies such as Microsoft and Xerox have also begun working more closely with organizations for the disabled and smaller companies that design add-on software. Telecommunications companies are closely examining services popular among deaf and hearing-impaired people of all ages, such as instant messaging over computers and two-way pagers.
AT&T and Sprint recently started offering video relay, in which a deaf person sets up a Web camera on his computer and uses sign language to address an operator, who in turn translates to the hearing party on the other end.
Users say video relay is faster and conveys more emotion than the traditional TTY system, in which a deaf person types his or her end of the conversation and an operator reads it to the hearing person and then types back responses.
Even baby boomers who develop hearing loss but do not know sign language will have several phone technologies at their disposal.
To help lip-readers, researchers in Israel have developed software that gathers the individual sounds in a phone conversation and displays a computer-animated face that appears to speak what the person on the other end of the line is saying. Northview Enterprises of Clearwater, Fla., plans to adapt the Lip-C Cell software soon for American English.
UltraTec of Madison, Wis., hopes to gain regulatory approval soon for its CapTel phone, which uses a captioning service as a silent middle man, so a person with poor hearing can read a transcript of a phone conversation almost in real time.
But technology still has a long way to go.
For example, newer digital cell phones often interfere with hearing aids.
Many disabled people find wireless devices so hard to master that engineers plan an extensive discussion on design improvements at this month's CTIA Wireless 2003, one of the industry's most important conventions.
With reports from Associated Press