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IBM to Collaborate With Universities to Make Mobile Devices More Accessible

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A consortium has been set up to explore an open, common user interface platform for mobile devices, to make them easier to use for disadvantaged populations around the world. The group is made up of IBM, , the National Institute of Design (NID) of India and Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo (RCAST). Software developed by IBM Research and the universities will be made available as open source, and other materials developed will be made publicly available, in order to allow governments and businesses around the world to take advantage of the technology.

As the world's infrastructure becomes increasingly digital and governments around the world provide information and services via Web sites, it's critical that the Internet be accessible to all people, including those who are illiterate, blind, deaf, or elderly. The aim of the collaborative research is to help make this possible.

The new research partnership is part of the IBM's Open Collaborative Research program, an initiative to foster innovation through university-industry research collaboration. RCAST is the first university affiliated research institute in Japan to participate in the Open Collaborative Research program, and NID is the second university in India.

"Through this collaborative research initiative, we will uncover real information accessibility requirements and issues that the elderly and people in developing economies are facing today," said Chieko Asakawa, IBM Fellow and chief technology officer of IBM's accessibility research. "By focusing on mobile devices, which have a tremendous potential to empower them, we believe the findings will help us offer affordable services to a large population, who are still deprived of access to key information sources."

IBM Research - India and NID will identify the communication needs and preferences of the non- and semi-literate population, to not only help them connect but to engage with information through mobile devices.

"By bringing IBM's deep knowledge in mobile web and NID's interface design and ethnological expertise, this initiative is aimed to develop inclusive technologies and help the underprivileged improve their lives," said Dr. Jignesh Khakhar of NID.

IBM researchers in Tokyo and the human information engineering research team, led by Professor Tohru Ifukube of RCAST, will place their research focus on Japan's elderly population, where the aging rate is growing at a rapid pace, making Japan the world's most elderly population. With IBM's accessibility technology expertise and RCAST's expertise, they will work directly with the elderly to investigate and determine real-life requirements of elderly people when using mobile devices.

"New technologies and various new services will continue to emerge, and mobile devices will become a window of opportunity for us to engage with information anytime anyplace," said Professor Tohru Ifukube of RCAST. "With IBM's expertise in accessibility technologies and mobile web technologies, coupled with our expertise in five-senses communication and NID's interface design expertise, we are looking forward to develop inclusive technologies for elderly population to help improve quality of life."

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