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Xerox unveils software for the blind

The digital copier software, the company's latest product for the disabled, increases Xerox's ability to sell to government agencies.

Xerox launched digital copier software for the visually impaired and the blind Thursday, a move that expands the company's offerings to people with disabilities and increases its ability to sell into government agencies.

The Xerox Copier Assistant software lets people with visual disabilities use computers and the Xerox Document Centre 500 Series multifunction system to make copies without assistance.

Xerox, along with other IT and electronics makers, are increasingly making their products accessible to people with disabilities so they can land sales with federal agencies and a growing number of state offices across the nation. Under section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998, all electronics and information technology developed, procured and maintained by the federal government must be accessible to people with disabilities. The act took effect in 2001.

"Even if a federal office doesn?t have a blind person working there, you still have to have the technology configured so it will work when they get there," said James Gashel, director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind. "This was not a civil rights law that passed. It was a purchasing law...If companies had to do this based on the number of blind people in the work force, it wouldn?t work as a civil rights law. There are not enough blind people working. We?re smarter than that and got this passed as a purchasing law."

In the United States, roughly 250,000 blind people are of working age, but only 26 percent are employed, Gashel said. Section 508 is geared toward increasing those numbers.

The Xerox Copier Assistant offers an enlarged onscreen user interface, keyboard navigation buttons such as tab, arrow and function keys, and embedded text-to-speech software. The text-to-speech software walks the user through various copying steps, such as stapling, collating and two-sided copying.

Xerox?s other offerings for the disabled include Braille console labels and "start print" footswitches.

A number of IT vendors are rapidly increasing the speed with which they adapt their products to work with products for the disabled, and they're launching new products that are specifically targeted to that segment of users.

"Operating systems like Windows need to be compatible with software that provides access to blind people. In the past, it would take a while, but now the newest versions of Windows works right away,? Gashel said.

Three years ago, Microsoft and Pulse Data announced they would work together on the latter's