Project makes web more accessible to blind

July 3, 2008 8:54:46 AM PDT
It seems internet access is everywhere these days - a lot of us take it for granted. But for blind people having access to an internet-connected computer didn't always mean having access to the web, until a new, free - web-based program was born.

This is something you don't have to see to believe. It's a new open source internet project, headed by University of Washington Seattle grad student Jeffrey Bigham.

The project started with just one question:

"How would you access a computer if all you had was audio output and maybe a keyboard?" said Bigham.

It's just another hurdle for people like John Glass who's been blind all his life. He's been surfing the net with the help of a screen reader, but it needed to be installed on any computer he would use.

"The problem with that was in many situations where you are in a public setting, you as an individual user don't have the permissions to install third party software," said Glass.

That left him with limited options on where he could log on and left Jeffrey with another question:

"Why can't assisted technology move from the desktop to the web, so that you can access the computer in the way you like, with your personal interface, from whatever computer you happen to be at," said Bigham.

And WebAnywhere was born - a screen reader that works on a webbrowser translating anything on the internet into spoken word. Right now it's an open source alpha version, meaning other programmers can tweak the program to their liking, and Jeffrey would like to see it expanded.

"Our goal is really to get this code and system out to people so they can use it and we want as few restrictions on that as possible - so people will actually get it out there and help us," said Bigham.

And help is what it's all about.

"Because of the fact that we are a limited market, it causes many software developers to not take our needs are as seriously as others," said Glass.

For Jeffrey, this started as a school project - it's being funded by grants, and for users it's absolutely free.

"I've received a couple of hundred emails seen a need for this type of software," said Bigham.

Jeffrey says he now wants to see it expanded to assist other groups - like people with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

For more information please click on: www.webanywhere.cs.washington.edu/


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