HorizonLive opens another door to Web meetings

Company adds Section 508 accessibility

Web conferencing systems are fantastic: They make online meetings and training sessions accessible to anybody with a browser.

Well, maybe not everybody. Maybe not people with disabilities.

HorizonLive.com Inc. of Brooklyn, N.Y., is trying to change that.

The company has incorporated Section 508-compliant applications into its HorizonLive 3.2 Web conferencing software platform, including closed captioning, screen readers and keyboard shortcuts.

'Our goal is that anyone who can access a Web page be able to access our product,' said Steve Kann, HorizonLive's chief engineer. 'If you get onto the Web, you should be able to use our product.'

At the Fish and Wildlife Service's National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, W.Va., officials use HorizonLive for online training and meetings. They know that making their Web conferencing system Section 508 accessible is important.

'If we've got somebody [with a disability], we have to be able to meet the 508 compliance requirements,' said Don Tollefson, a Fish and Wildlife eLearning specialist. 'We haven't had that situation yet, but if we do, we know that [508 capability in HorizonLive] is available.'

HorizonLive servers host the system, and participants need only Internet access and Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher or Netscape 4.0 or higher to participate in a virtual meeting or classroom.

The system supports Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh and Unix operating systems.

Meeting participants must have at least 32M of RAM, a sound card and speakers, and either RealPlayer 8 or higher from RealNetworks Inc. of Seattle or Apple QuickTime 5 or higher.

Presenters need 64M of RAM, RealProducer 8.5 or QuickTime Encoder, and a sound card with microphone.

The system also supports one-way videoconferencing. Presenters can use any type of video capture that is compatible with the PC accessing HorizonLive.

Access control and authentication are up to the customer. Some require user names and passwords, others just use a group password, Kann said.

The company plans to release version 4.0 in early July, Kann said. It will include a new, two-way audio and teleconferencing system using voice over IP.

'It grabs on to the idea of the convergence of voice over IP and the telephone system,' he said. 'The exciting feature is that you can have people coming in on the telephone and via two-way voice over IP, all in the same session.'

Voice over IP is a big plus for government users such as Tollefson, who have to live with tight budgets.

'We use the one-way audio capability with voice over Internet so we're not incurring any telephone costs,' he said. 'It makes a big difference in cost.'

Another improvement is a new interface that will be more intuitive and easier to use, Kann said.
'It was time for a freshening up,' he said. 'We think it's going to be a warmer and more inviting interface.'

Most customers use HorizonLive for education and training, Kann said. But many also find it works well for online meetings.

'When we started it [in 1997] we were primarily targeting instructional education'a virtual classroom,' he said. 'We weren't looking for people to do meetings. But many of our education customers found it useful for study groups.'

On the other hand, California's 108-campus community college system is currently using HorizonLive for virtual meetings among administrative departments'not for classroom instruction, as one might expect, Kann said.

'They're evaluating how they would want to use it for instruction,' he said.

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