Millions of people worldwide with physical impairments are unable to use computers and other technology, but it does not have to be that way. A new Microsoft-backed laboratory in Hong Kong wants to open up the internet and other information technology to handicapped people as it researches ways to improve human interaction with computers. Microsoft Research Asia and Chinese University of Hong Kong inaugurated last Wednesday their joint laboratory for human-centric computing and interface technologies, with a focus on enabling computers to listen, see and learn. Hon Hsiao-wuen, assistant managing director at Microsoft Research Asia, said voice-based access to e-mail or the Web, for example, represented accessibility technology that could reach more computer users, especially the disabled. A study from Forrester Research last year forecast steady growth in accessible technology users between 2003 and 2010. In the US, it was estimated that about 70 million people would use some form of accessible technology by 2010, up from 57 million in 2003. Major technology players - including Microsoft, IBM, Intel and Hewlett-Packard - have been removing technical barriers to computing and empowering the physically impaired and the elderly to access information resources. For instance, braille keyboards have evolved into hands-free technology. University vice-chancellor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee said the facility was expected to develop technologies and nurture fresh talent from the academic sector.