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Tech Tools for Older Workers

November 23, 2005
Related Topics: Disabilities, Internet, Future Workplace, Featured Article, Recruitment, Staffing Management
For companies trying to keep older workers from retiring, one smart move may be to make the work environment more elder-friendly, says Sara Basson, program manager of IBM’s Worldwide Accessibility Center in Austin, Texas. That’s why IBM has developed a package of software tools to improve computer accessibility for those with age-related disabilities and other physical limitations.

    The new technologies, which are available for download from IBM’s alphaWorks Web site, are designed to work with existing software, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, that may already be on the user’s computer.

    One potentially useful tool is Web Adaptation Technology, which changes the way that Internet Explorer displays Web pages. "It allows you as a user to identify what works for you best," Basson says. "You can pick a font size and color combination that works best for your eyes, and get rid of flashing things on the page and wallpapers that make it visually confusing." Additionally, the software contains a feature that will read aloud any block of text if the user scrolls the mouse over it.

    A second part of the software package is a Keyboard Optimizer, which allows users to adjust the keyboard to suit their typing style or disability. One particularly useful feature is a program that eases typing for people with tremors, arthritis or a lack of control due to a stroke. The software filters out shaking movements of the hand, Basson says, by using artificial intelligence capabilities to figure out which keys the user intended to tap. In addition, the keyboard can be adjusted for use by one-hand typists. "If you tend to move slowly and perseverate over a key, the keyboard can adjust, so that you don’t have a string of jjjjj or rrrr," Basson says.

    Another related tool is mouse-smoothing software, which filters out shaking movements of the hand.

    IBM also is offering the Reflexive User Interface Builder, which enables corporate software developers to create applications that are simpler and clearer for older users or those with disabilities.

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