New software lets blind surf the Internet on the go

June 26th, 2008 - 1:35 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 26 (ANI): University of Washington experts say that they have written new software, WebAnywhere, which can enable blind and visually impaired people to surf the Internet at any place.

Richard Ladner, a professor of computer science and engineering, has revealed that the software can read aloud Web text on any computer with speakers or headphone connections.

“This is for situations where someone who’s blind can’t use their own computer but still wants access to the Internet. At a museum, at a library, at a public kiosk, at a friend’s house, at the airport,” said Ladner, who will demonstrate the tool next week in Dallas at the National Federation of the Blind’s annual convention.

A UW doctoral student in computer science and engineering named Jeffrey Bigham developed WebAnywhere under Ladner’s supervision, as part of a research project funded by the National Science Foundation.

Unlike the existing free screen readers, the new software does not have to be downloaded onto a computer. It processes the text on an external server, and sends the audio file to play in the user’s Web browser.

“You don’t have to install new software. So even if you go to a heavily locked-down computer, say at a library, you can still use it,” Bigham said.

Users dont even have to update the software because they get its latest version each time they visit the site.

While testing the software, the researchers asked some people to use it to do three things that are typically done at public machines check e-mail, look up a bus schedule and search for a restaurant’s phone number.

People using WebAnywhere were able to successfully complete all three tasks, using a variety of machines and Internet connections.

So far, WebAnywhere works only in English, but a Web developer in China has expressed interest in developing a Chinese version.

Its makers are planning to update it so as to allow users to change the speed at which the text is read aloud, as well as add other popular features found in existing screen readers. The service is currently hosted on a server at the UW campus.

Bigham believes this could be the first of many Web-based accessibility tools.

“Traditional desktop tools such as e-mail, word processors and spreadsheets are moving to the Web. Access technology, which currently runs only on the desktop, needs to follow suit,” he said. (ANI)

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