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IBM helps Firefox reach disabled

With the donation of code from IBM, the open browser may become more useful to people with visual disabilities and motor impairment.

IBM will donate 50,000 lines of code to the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox Web browser to make it friendly for people with visual and motor disabilities, Big Blue said Monday.

The contribution would allow the addition of dynamic hypertext markup language accessibility technology to version 1.5 of Firefox, the company said. With this technology, Web pages can be magnified, automatically narrated or navigated from a keyboard instead of from a mouse, IBM said. For instance, the amount of tabbing required to navigate a spreadsheet can be minimized for people with mobility disabilities.

In addition, developers can work on "rich Internet applications" tailored for the disabled or elderly. Such applications can run without requiring people to install additional programs on their PCs.

IBM has already helped integrate into Firefox support for Microsoft Active Accessibility, an industry standard for access technologies such as screen readers, which read software and content aloud.

"IBM's commitment to further Firefox's capabilities and reach people who have disabilities marks an important technical advancement for Firefox," Mitchell Baker, Mozilla president, said in a statement.

The market for access technologies is large. Between 750 million and a billion people globally have a speech, vision, mobility, hearing or cognitive disabilities, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S., the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to provide access to electronic and information technology for all employees and citizens, irrespective of their abilities.