Spotted in the recent Headstar E-Access Bulletin:
A new system developed by IBM allowing people to set preferences for their web browser such as large text sizes, which can then be accessed from any computer, is to be supported in the UK by the charity Abilitynet.
The system works by combining a small piece of software or ‘plug-in’downloaded to the user’s computer - which must be running the Internet Explorer web browser version 5.5 or higher - with preferences and settings stored on a remote web server by each user with a unique password. When the user logs in to any computer at work or home
which has the browser plug-in, and enters their username and password, their preferences and settings will be restored.
Web Adaptation Technology (WAT) can adjust settings such as page magnification, text size and spacing, colour balance, graphics display, and audio output.
Individuals and non-profit groups can use the technology for free, while other organisations must negotiate licence fees with IBM. The technology has already been undergoing trials in the US, in association with several charities and research bodies.
Although some owners of web site are very rigorous when it comes to accessibility, it will probably be years before most web sites are accessible. In the meantime, this kind of service will be of some value, said Mark Wakefield, Community Relations Manager at IBM
According to Wakefield, it is likely that many vision-impaired people will need assistance to download and use the software. AbilityNet is to provide information and help-desk support for individual users, and training for organisations that sign up
for the WAT service.
Personally, I feel this is a high tech stop gap solution. The requirement of downloading and installing the plug-in makes it far from universal, and a lot of functionality can be achieved by using any browser other than Internet Explorer. With regards to having access to your own preferences, no matter what machine you’re on, there’s a solution I’ve been using for a while: install Mozilla Firefox on a USB keychain harddrive, configure it to your needs — including setting up user stylesheets — and take your browser and settings with you.
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