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IBM Urges U.S. Senate to Support Worldwide Accessibility Standards

WASHINGTON, DC -- (MARKET WIRE) -- 05/11/2005 -- In testimony before the U.S. Senate today, IBM called for support of consistent worldwide accessibility standards so that everyone, especially people with disabilities and the aging population, can have easy access to information technology and the Web.

Frances West, director of IBM's World Wide Accessibility Center, asked members of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on European Affairs, chaired by Sen. George Allen (R-VA), to embrace the need for consistent or "harmonized" standards in information technology.

Accessible technology enables people with differing levels of capability to use information systems. For example, it allows people who are blind to use a screen reader; people who are deaf to use captioning devices; and older users to enlarge the text size.

West told the Senate Subcommittee that the best way to make technology accessible is through "a global policy that is open, harmonized to existing approaches and promotes an IT environment that enables interoperability."

"Accessibility is enhanced by open standards," West said, "that permit the free exchange of information, encourage innovation and give businesses, governments, schools and social agencies more flexibility to customize solutions and meet their own, individual requirements."

The European Commission, in its 2005 Communication on e-Accessibility, indicated that they are examining accessibility compliance evaluation that could include certification and labeling by a third party.

West said, however, that IBM and the industry groups she represents support a "voluntary system of self-certification that strengthens the incentive to address accessibility early in the product design phase and enables innovative products to be brought to the market place more quickly."

Evaluation of products in-house encourages interoperability and collaborative problem solving between hardware, software and assistive technology vendors and also reinforces a corporate commitment to accessibility.

IBM, like most in the industry, does detailed accessibility reporting on its products. Asking a third party to test products for accessibility, West said, would only increase product cost and lengthen the product cycle.

In the U.S. alone, there are 54 million people with disabilities and 76 million aging baby boomers who need accessible technology. According to AARP, one in every four people will acquire a functional disability by age 50 and one in two people by age 65. Harmonized standards will increase the availability of accessible products and solutions.

West testified at the Senate hearing on behalf of the IBM Corporation, the European American Business Council and the Information Technology Industry Council.

For more information about IBM's commitment to accessibility and history of innovation, see www.ibm.com/able.