Efforts to make technology accessible to all through assistive devices and international standards for HTML and CSS are still relatively new. The Computer History Museum cites a March 5, 1993, Los Angeles Times story as an early example of the use of assistive computer technology. The article explained how Robert Antunez, a UCLA student with visual impairment, was using a “talking laptop”—a $1,000 Toshiba T1000SE with a $650 speech synthesizer—to earn his college degree. Antunez was able to borrow the laptop from the UCLA Disabilities and Computing Program.
1993 was only seven years after IBM researcher Jim Thatcher invented the first screen reader for MS-DOS. Inspired by his thesis advisor at the University of Michigan, who was blind, Thatcher later led the effort to develop the first screen reader for graphical user interfaces (GUIs), the IBM Screen Reader/2. He was also involved in Chieko Asakawa’s development of the IBM Home Page Reader, a voice browser introduced in 1997.
Other key moments in assistive technology history include:
- The 1995 introduction of Windows 95, Microsoft’s first operating system to offer built-in accessibility features; previously, they had only been available as an add-on.
- The 1999 release of the first Web Content Accessibility Guidelines by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
- The 2001 effective date of amendments (known as Section 508) to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that required federal agencies to ensure their electronic and information technology be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
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