Blind inventor makes web accessible

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A new device that will make internet content available to blind people without the need for computer skills is to be launched in a few months' time. The SpeakOn gadget has been developed by Chris Mairs, a blind entrepreneur who has founded an assistive technology charity called A-Technic.

The device will be able to access MP3 music files, radio stations, podcasts and website content normally available only as text, like online newspapers. Mr Mairs says blind people currently have to use assistive technology called a screenreader to interpret what is, essentially, a visual concept. The SpeakOn is being developed in two phases. The first is to produce a simple interface for people who already know how to use a computer. The device is being specifically designed for visually impaired people who are, in Mr Mairs' words, “technologically frail”.

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But the SpeakOn is very unlikely to provide access to all internet content – what is planned is more like a “walled garden”. Mr Mairs says that being able to render the content of so many websites in a sensible form would not be technically feasible. The box will require a broadband connection and the developers hope to link up with a service provider that can offer a complete support package. If successful, the SpeakOn should help to tackle the problem of digital exclusion which affects some older and disabled people.

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