Accessible Technology in the 21st Century
|| a stanford sophomore college project ||

.history of accessible technology.


Courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

  • 1808 – The first typewriter is built by Pellegrino Turri to help a blind friend write legibly.
  • 1886 – Herman Hollerith, who had a cognitive processing disability, implemented the idea of using punch cards to transport data from the 1890 census. He later founded the Tabulating Machine Company. In 1924, it became known as IBM.
  • 1916 – At Bell Labs, Harvey Fletcher built the Western Electric Model 2A hearing aid.
  • 1934 – The Readphon Talking Book was invented.
  • 1935 – The American Foundation for the Blind publishes the first issue of the Talking Book Bulletin (books on tape).
  • 1936 – Bell Labs invents the first electronic speech synthesizer called “Voder” (for “voice coder”).
  • 1948 – John Bardeed, William Shockley and Walter Brattain at Bell Labs invented the transistor to create more reliable, smaller, cheaper, more efficient hearing aids. They won the 1956 Nobel Prize for Physics.
  • 1960 – Pilgrim Imagine started captioning for the deaf.
  • 1964 – A deaf orthodontist sent a teletype machine to a deaf scientist, beginning the TTY (Teletypewriter) revolution.
  • 1972 - The first national open-captioned program aired on PBS (The French Chef with Julia Child).
  • 1972 – Vinton Cerf, who had a hearing impairment and was married to a deaf woman, developed host level protocols for ARPANET. He communicated with his wife through the computer using text – the precursor to e-mail.
  • 1975 – Ray Kurzweil created the Kurzweil Reading Machine and the first OCR technology and created one of the first CCD (charge coupled device) scanners.
  • 1986 – Jim Thatcher created the first screen reader at IBM, called IBM Screen Reader (for DOS). At first it wasn’t trademarked because it was primarily for low vision staff members. He later created a Screen Reader/2 for graphical interface PCs (4).
  • 1988 - Retail registers began to use picture based keyboards, originally created to help those that couldn’t speak be able to use a synthesizer to talk.
  • 1990 – The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is passed. This Act requires “civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunications” (17).
  • 1994 – National Federation of the Blind created a synthetic speech newspaper updated daily.
  • 1995 – Microsoft issued Windows 95, the first time their OS had built in accessibility features (rather than as an add-on) (5).
  • 1996 – Productivity Works created pwWebSpeak, a browser that translated text into speech.
  • 1997 – NCR Corp created the first audio ATM, accessible to blind or illiterate users.
  • 1998 – Synchronized Accessible Media Exchange (SAMI) released to allow simplified ability to caption and audio describe videos (5).
  • 1998 – Section 508 is added to the Rehabilitation Act, requiring that government agencies make their websites more accessible to people with disabilities. Some of these requirements include text descriptions of images, elimination of flashing colors, and regulations against changing a user’s preset contrast setting (16).
  • 1999 – World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released Web Content Accessibility guidelines.
  • 2000 – Microsoft Windows 2000 released, with an on screen keyboard option and the ability to translate text to speech for illiterate or blind users (5).

(4) Cooke, Annemarie. “A History of Accessibility at IBM.” AccessWorld. Mar. 2004. American Foundation for the Blind. 13 Sept. 2005 <>.
(5) “History of Microsoft’s Commitment to Accessibility.” 01 Jun. 2005. Microsoft. 15 Sept. 2005 <>.
16) “Section 508 Standards.” 18 Sept. 2005 <>.
(17) “Americans with Disabilities Act Questions and Answers.” US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 23 Aug. 2002. US Department of Justice. 19 Sept. 2005 <>.