IBM, Japan, Tottori Prefecture Information-Center (TIC) and KOA Corporation (KOA) today announced that they have embarked on a groundbreaking project to greatly improve access to critical public government online services by constructing a first of a kind Web Accessibility Cloud Center. The effort, adopted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan as part of its Information and Communication Furusato Genki Project, an effort to re-energize regions in Japan, will build on Tottori Prefecture's official Website and dramatically increase citizen's access to important public services that have until now been out of reach.
Enabling citizens, including the elderly population and people with disabilities, to easily access information made available by government institutions has become an urgent issue for the nation and local governments in Japan. While most local governments today provide important information via Web pages - as many as thousands to hundreds of thousands of pages per a single local public entity - many populations continue to face insurmountable barriers in accessing these Web-based public services.
Together, IBM, TIC and KOA, will work together to build an accessibility improvement system which will allow every Japanese citizen who browses government Web pages and Website owners to collaborate and actively participate in improving the ease of access to these site. Through the accessibility improvement system, users can report accessibility issues they face as they browse a Web page. Each report and accessibility improvement request from users will be stored in a new Web Accessibility Cloud Center which will allow site designers to quickly address them and address the accessibility issues.
"This is a very unique approach inspired by the IBM Research team in Tokyo to improve Web accessibility by directly involving the citizens of Japan through social networking," said Masumi Taniguchi, CEO of Tottori Prefecture Information-Center. "The new accessibility improvement system will benefit local governments like Tottori Prefecture who are looking for ways to give citizens opportunities to actively participate and collaborate to help improve public services, some of which are not yet reaching all citizens."
The accessibility improvement system, for example, allows those who are visually impaired to report an accessibility issue, such as a difficulty in understanding the information displayed in a form of a chart or an image on a Web page, with a simple operation. By looking at an individual user request being reported, a renovator will simply add an alternative text to describe the chart or the image. The alternative text is then stored at the Web Accessibility Cloud Center in a form of an external metadata(*1). The next time users revisit the Web page, IBM's latest mashup technology automatically loads the added alternative text to allow users to understand the chart or the image on the Web page. By having the external metadata reside at the cloud center, Web content will remain unchanged while making improvement to the Web page accessibility in a short period of time.
"The growing dependence on the Internet has made it an important infrastructure for our society, and, in turn, has raised demands for Web accessibility to ensure the inclusion of all citizens," said IBM researcher Hironobu Takagi. "To help Tottori to become more open, accountable and democratized, we are taking a unique approach to improve access to Web-based public services through collaboration with citizens by applying advanced accessible technologies and expertise to the accessibility improvement system we are building."
The Web accessibility cloud center will be set up at TIC's data center and will be managed by TIC. Additionally, TIC, working together with people with disabilities, plans to foster renovators by utilizing tools provided by the accessibility improvement system to create opportunities for people with disabilities and elderly populations to gain new knowledge and skills, as well as create job opportunities.
In addition to automatically evaluating large volumes of Web pages generated by local governments to see if they are accessibility and JIS X 8341-3 (*2) compliant, the accessibility improvement system offers an innovative mechanism to continuously and efficiently improve accessibility by combining a reporting mechanism to allow users who browse Web pages to report accessibility issues and a tool to allow renovators to instantly solve the reported issue. A variety of accessibility technologies developed by IBM Research - Tokyo as well as findings gained through the IBM's Social Accessibility research project(*3) - will be applied to the accessibility improvement system.
About IBM - For more information, please visit www.ibm.com.
About TIC - Tottori Prefecture Information-Center (TIC) is a third-sector (semi-public sector) company based in Tottori Prefecture, Japan, with over 40 years of rich experience in supporting government IT operations.
About KOA - Founded in 1981, KOA Corporation (KOA) is an IBM Japan's Business Partner, offering IT solutions in Tottori Prefecture, Japan. Its root stems from a rice and Japanese paper wholesaler founded in 1881.
*1 Metadata consists of useful information such as description of the content and physical location of the particular content.
*2 JIS X 8341-3: "Guidelines for older persons and persons with disabilities - Information and communications equipment, software and services - Part 3: Web content." "JIS" stands for Japanese Industrial Standards.
*3 There are billions of people who face problems in accessing Web pages, including people with disabilities, elderly people, and illiterate people in developing countries. The needs for accessible Web pages have become too broad to be left only to Web developers. The wisdom of crowd has become part of a key strategy to combine various skills and knowledge into a community that can address the needs for accessibility. Social Accessibility is one such research project for visually impaired people, producing findings and new challenges. For more information, please visit www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/24593.wss