REDMOND, Wash., March 1, 1999 — Brazil’s largest bank is using Microsoft technology to make banking easier for the visually impaired. Officials from Sao Paulo-based Banco Bradesco and software vendor MicroPower visited Microsoft recently to demonstrate Bradesco Net-Internet Banking for the Visually Handicapped software.
Technology-savvy Banco Bradesco has offered PC-based home banking to its customers for more than 13 years. It was the first Brazilian bank-and the fifth bank worldwide-to implement Internet banking. Banco Bradesco currently has more than 500,000 Internet banking customers. To better serve its visually impaired customers, the company introduced this new software in August. Since then, nearly 500 Bradesco customers have installed the software, in CD-ROM format, to access their bank accounts and do financial transactions through the Internet.
Bradesco Net-Internet Banking for the Visually Handicapped uses Microsoft Active Accessibility to “read” a screen of text to the user using a voice synthesizer. In addition to being the first online banking software to incorporate accessibility features for the visually impaired, it is also the first commercial screen-reading software to support Portugese, the national language of Brazil. MicroPower plans to make this software available in multiple languages; the company has licensed text-to-speech engines in several other languages – including English, Spanish, French, Italian and German. “As far as we know, there is no other bank offering this type of software,” said MicroPower president Francisco Soeltl. “Bradesco is the first bank in the world to offer it.”
To create the software, MicroPower developers used Microsoft’s Visual C++ and Active Accessibility, which enables applications to actively cooperate with accessibility aids. Members of Microsoft’s accessibility group in Redmond and its developer support teams in Sao Paulo and Texas worked with Bradesco on the software, said Mario Faria, Microsoft’s senior account manager in Sao Paulo.
The project required two years of research and involved the University of Sao Paulo and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, as well as the assistance of the Brazilian Ophthalmology Council, a national association of 9,000 ophthalmologists.
For Microsoft, this is an example of how its technologies can help developers create useful and innovative software, especially for persons with disabilities.
“Our approach to accessibility isn’t to build all the software. We aren’t smart enough, we don’t know all the problems,” said Microsoft President Steve Ballmer, who attended the demonstration along with representatives of Microsoft’s Accessibility and Disabilities Group. “We build the facilities into the operating system to help solve the problem. Our partners, who really know and understand particular problems, build the best applications. We want to enable them to do this wonderful work.”