August 24, 2006 11:38 ET

IBM Equips Computer Science Students With Skills to Make Software More Accessible to Disabled Users

Provides Online Lecture, and Launches Contest to Design Software for Disabled

ARMONK, NY -- (MARKET WIRE) -- August 24, 2006 -- IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced a program to equip computer science majors at colleges and universities with the technical skills to develop or adapt computer programs for people with disabilities, the maturing population, and non-native language speakers, so that they can more easily access, navigate and use the Web and electronic office documents.

Just in time for the fall semester, IBM is posting a Web-based, lecture available for viewing anytime ( that teaches programming techniques to make electronic documents and the Web more accessible to all users. The lecture also discusses and illustrates the importance of developing software and Web applications that are accessible to all. Professors who lead computer science courses can easily incorporate the material into their curriculum.

As part of the program, IBM is also launching a contest that challenges students to propose and design open source software for people with disabilities. To qualify, their entries must be based on a new international standard, called the OpenDocument Format (ODF). Familiarity with ODF will be increasingly important, as the format will be required by 50 percent of governments and 20 percent of commercial organizations by 2010, according to the Gartner. More information on the contest can be found at

"While there are many courses on programming skills, few, if any, lectures are devoted to encouraging students to consider the needs of computer users with sight, hearing or mobility disabilities when they write software code," said Dr. Wayne Dick, Chair of the Computer Engineering and Computer Science Department at the University of California State University at Long Beach. "IBM's considerable expertise in assistive technologies will help computer sciences majors differentiate themselves in the job market, and give the students the satisfaction of helping others and solving challenges. The skills also make good business sense, given the size of the disabled community."

Between 750 million and 1 billion of the world's 6 billion people have a speech, vision, mobility, hearing or cognitive disability, according to the World Health Organization. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one-quarter of the U.S. population will reach 55 by 2008, and about two-thirds will experience a disability after age 65. Vendors that hire computer science graduates recognize the growing spending power of people with physical disabilities. Collectively, their income is estimated at $1 trillion, and they control up to $10 trillion in financial assets, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and American Association of People With Disabilities.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified computer-based jobs as one of the fastest growing occupations through 2012, particularly those involving skills for jobs related to systems analysts, database administrators, computer scientists -- with growth rates ranging from 40 to 70 percent in the U.S. alone.

"The program announced today is an effort by IBM to foster innovation that really matters," said Frances West, Director, IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center. "We're distilling our extensive experience and know-how when it comes to accessibility, and bringing it to bear for the generation of computer scientists-in-training, who can really make a difference in their professional careers."

"This contest brings together three critical ideas that have significant importance in the computer industry today: open standards, open source, and accessibility," said Dr. Bob Sutor, IBM Vice President, Standards and Open Source. "We hope that these efforts spark significant uptake in how we make our information and applications available to as many people as possible."

IBM has been involved in matters of accessibility ever since it hired its first disabled employee in 1914. It has developed many dozens of products, such as screen magnifiers, narrators and stabilizers, that make computers more accessible to all, including disabled users. It operates several human ability and accessibility centers around the world, and has well over 100 researchers, computer scientists and experts that advance the state of the accessibility art.

The program announced today complements the efforts of IBM's University Relations Academic Initiative, a program offering education-related tools and technologies via the Web or in person. IBM works with schools that support open computer standards and seek to use open source and IBM technologies for teaching purposes. More than 1,900 institutions, 11,000 faculty members and 450,000 students take advantage of the training programs offered through the Initiative.

Participating schools receive free access to IBM software, discounted hardware, course materials, training and curriculum development. The value of the free resources can range into millions of dollars. For more information on the IBM Academic Initiative, please visit

Last week, the New York City Mayor's Office for People With Disabilities bestowed the Title IV Telecommunications Award on IBM. New York City's mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, praised IBM's commitment to increasing technological accessibility for people with disabilities. Examples include an IBM service that assesses the accessibility of customers' Web sites; and for providing accessible products such as the Home Page Reader, and Lotus Learning Management System.

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