Accessibility - overview

"Accessibility" ultimately aims at an inclusive society for people with disabilities, senior citizens, people with literacy problems, and everyone who has access challenges in their daily lives, education, and employment. Throughout history, many now-common technologies were originally invented to help support people with disabilities, including keyboards, optical character recognition, voice synthesis, and many others. IBM Research – Tokyo has played an important role in creating and applying such technologies as voice recognition and synthesis, digital Braille, auditory Web access, and crowdsourcing for accessibility enhancements. Recent work includes "information accessibility" for universal access to books, videos, and the Internet, "cognitive assistants" that support real-world life and work, and "speech technologies" including advanced voice analysis for business applications. We also contribute to accessibility-related standardization and open source software development activities based on our knowledge and expertise in accessibility.


Information Accessibility

IBM Research – Tokyo has worked on accessibility research for about 30 years, creating new information technologies to assist people with disabilities and senior citizens to actively participate in a society. The digital Braille authoring and sharing system developed in the 1980s is still in use as the basis of current de facto standard systems. IBM Home Page Reader in 1997 was the world's first practical voice-based Web browser. In the 2000s we developed aDesigner for web developers and Easy Web Browsing for people who need visual aids. These tools contributed significantly towards later assistive technologies and Web accessibility standards. We are now working to explore new applications of "crowd accessibility", which exploits the power of crowds via the Internet to improve the information accessibility.

Cognitive Assistants

IBM Research – Tokyo explores multiple aspects of Cognitive Assistants, an emerging area of Cognitive Computing, to help people with disabilities and senior citizens use mobile devices as well as to improve their life and work environments. A Cognitive Assistant is a computer that helps you understand what is going on around you. As mobile devices with multiple built-in sensors have become common and speech/visual recognition technologies have been improved, now a computer can be a tool to "read" the real world. Advanced big-data analytics technologies have potential to provide a powerful assistant that supports our decision making. These technologies provide people with disabilities and senior citizens with new opportunities for social participation, by complementing their sensory, physical, and cognitive abilities.

Speech Technologies

Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) is a technology that converts utterances into text by analyzing human voices with computers. In 1997, IBM Research – Tokyo commercialized IBM ViaVoice, the first Large Vocabulary Continuous Speech Recognition (LVCSR) software package for Japanese. At that time LVCSR software focused on analyzing well-pronounced speech in quiet environments. As the technologies improved, new targets included spontaneous speech, such as daily conversations. Our research findings have been utilized in various business areas such as call center monitoring, smart phones, and car navigation systems. IBM Research – Tokyo continues to study various speech technologies involving speech recognition, synthesis, and analytics in practical environments.

Contributions to Standardization, etc.

IBM Research – Tokyo has contributed to accessibility-related public initiatives such as standardization and open source software development activities. Examples include JIS X 8341-3, the standard Web accessibility guidelines in Japan, WAI and HTML WG in W3C, the primary international standards organization for the World Wide Web. Accessibility Tools Framework (ACTF) is a collection of tools and building blocks for accessibility that was originally developed by IBM Research and was donated to Eclipse Foundation in 2007. ACTF allows software developers to quickly build various accessibility services and tools such as aDesigner. aDesigner is an accessibility visualization tool that helps website designers who are not accessibility professionals and its derivative, miChecker, is an official accessibility checker distributed by Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. These activities contribute to the development of the world where everyone can access better accessibility technologies whenever and wherever they need to.