By Brenda Zulu
The blossoming of multimedia content on the Internet in recent years has
revolutionised personal interactions, business communications, and
other online services. But for millions of Internet users with sensory
disabilities, many of the communication tools remain frustratingly out
of their reach.
In a press release, Mr Arnoud van Wijk, Disability Projects Coordinator for the Internet
Society (ISOC), who was born deaf, knows only too well the frustration
Internet users with a disability experience from many current Internet
"During the past few years, the use of the Internet as a modern
replacement for telephony has accelerated," said Mr van Wijk. "The
ability to include more media in calls provides an excellent
opportunity to include people with disabilities in online
conversational services. But too often discriminatory voice telephony
services are simply re-created."
With this motivation, Mr van Wijk and other researchers have
documented a technique for "real-time text"; combining existing
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards to enable text
streaming over Internet Protocol networks.
The technique uses Internet telephony protocols to ensure
compatibility with voice, video, and other multimedia services on the
Internet. It allows text to be sent and received on a character by
character basis, with each character sent and displayed immediately
once typed, giving text the same conversational character as voice
According to Mr van Wijk, "Internet Telephony is rapidly becoming a
major way of staying in touch. But it breaks the traditional text
telephone, which deaf and hard of hearing people used in the past to
call each other. The real-time text technique addresses this problem
and can be integrated with Internet telephony."
Along with fellow technologist Guido Gybels, Director of New
Technologies at RNID (UK), and with contributions from other experts
in communication and accessibility for people with disabilities, Mr
van Wijk edited and co-authored 'Framework for Real-Time Text over IP
Using the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)', which the IETF has just
published as an informational document in its 'Request for Comment'
series as RFC 5194.
To further progress work in this field, this week sees the launch of
the 'Real-Time Text task force' (R3TF), an informal forum for
engineers, motivated individuals, experts, companies and
organisations. The R3TF has received incubation support from ISOC, as
part of its "Enabling Access" initiative, under which ISOC promotes a
diverse range of projects aimed at breaking down the barriers to
Michael Burks, Chairman, and Cynthia Waddell, Vice Chairman of ISOC's
Disability & Special Needs Chapter, welcome the announcement of the
new task force.
"Accessibility for persons with disabilities is critical and must be
maintained in the coming convergence," said Ms Waddell, an
Accessibility Expert to the International Telecommunication Union
(ITU), who is hard of hearing herself. "But it is worth pointing out
that, like many disability projects, this effort has the potential to
provide more options and greater usability for all users in many