IBM: Aging government work force to create hot IT opportunity

An aging government work force will spur a huge market for software and applications that help people with disabilities use computers and other information technologies, according to Jani Byrne, director of IBM Corp.'s worldwide accessibility business unit.

IBM of Armonk, N.Y., predicts that by 2005 the worldwide government market for accessibility tools and services will reach $109 billion, Byrne said.

On June 9, the company's global services business unit announced that it has formed a team of 140 services professionals to provide government agencies and the private sector with accessibility technologies and services.

Although Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is already generating some business for IBM, the company sees a far greater potential market in equipping agencies for their aging work forces.

Thanks to a graying baby boomer population, as well as a dearth of younger replacements, agencies will come to rely on aging workers who may suffer from fading eyesight, encroaching deafness and thought capacities diminished by strokes.

The Japanese government in particular has expressed an interest in equipping its employees with better accessibility tools, Byrne told Washington Technology. A similar market exists in the European Union, she said.

"This isn't a case of philanthropy. Accessibility will be a core business requirement" for organizations, Byrne said.

According to the Census Bureau, one in eight Americans age 65 and over ? about 4.5 million ? were either working or looking for work in 2002. In the United States, the population of people age 65 and older is expected to jump nearly 80 percent, compared with a 15 percent increase across the rest of the population.

IBM's new accessibility offerings include:

*Tools and services to help make Web sites easily readable for the vision impaired;

* E-learning services to help organizations make presentations for the disabled and to retain employees;

* Desktop support services to make computer applications easier to use for those with disabilities;

*Tools that will automatically create captions for lectures and other presentations.

Byrne counted the Postal Service and the state of Arizona as early customers.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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