[AI] WebAnywhere

Subramani L lsubramani at deccanherald.co.in
Fri Jun 27 04:41:43 EDT 2008

I am sure members are aware of System Access TO Go software which does
pretty much similar things. So, the info that this is the first software
of its kind is wrong I think. 


-----Original Message-----
From: accessindia-bounces at accessindia.org.in
[mailto:accessindia-bounces at accessindia.org.in] On Behalf Of shahnaz
Sent: Friday, June 27, 2008 1:38 PM
To: accessindia at accessindia.org.in
Subject: [AI] WebAnywhere

June 25, 2008
Hannah Hickey
hickeyh at u.washington.edu

Visions of future technology don't involve being chained to a desktop
machine. People move from home computers to work computers to mobile
devices; public kiosks pop up in libraries, schools and hotels; and
people increasingly store everything from e-mail to spreadsheets on
the Web.

But for the roughly 10 million people in the United States who are
blind or visually impaired, using a computer has, so far, required
special screen-reading software typically installed only on their own

New software, called WebAnywhere, launched today lets blind and
visually impaired people surf the Web on the go. The tool developed at
the University of Washington turns screen-reading into an Internet
service that reads 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
Richard Ladner, a UW professor of computer science and engineering.
The free program and both audio and video demonstrations are at

Ladner will demonstrate the tool next week in Dallas at the National
Federation of the Blind's annual convention. WebAnywhere was developed
under Ladner's supervision by Jeffrey Bigham, a UW doctoral student in
computer science and engineering. The research was funded by the
National Science Foundation.

Free screen readers already exist, as do sophisticated commercial
programs. But all must be installed on a machine before being used.
This is the first accessibility tool hosted on the Web, meaning it
doesn't have to be downloaded onto a computer. It processes the text
on an external server and then 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.

In May, Bigham was named the winner of the Accessible Technology Award
for Interface Design for the Imagine Cup, a student programming
contest sponsored by Microsoft Corp. The prize comes with $8,000 and a
trip to Paris in early July.

For the past month WebAnywhere has been available on request. Bigham
said he's received inquiries from librarians who would like to make
all their machines accessible on a limited budget. He's also had
interest from teachers who struggle to find the time to locate free
software, get permission to install it on a school computer and then
maintain the program so that a single computer is accessible to a
visually impaired student. This software would make any computer in
the lab instantly accessible for Internet tasks. The Web-based service
also eliminates the need for local technical support: there is no
software to install or update because each time a person visits the
site he or she gets the latest version.

To test the software, researchers had people use the tool to do three
things 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.

Like other screen readers, WebAnywhere converts written text to an
electronically generated voice. So far the system works only in
English. But the source code was released a few weeks ago and a Web
developer in China has expressed interest in developing a Chinese

The UW team plans to create updates that will allow users to change
the speed at which the text is read aloud and add other popular
features found in existing screen readers. The service is currently
hosted on a server at the UW campus.

Bigham is also working with Benetech, a Palo Alto, Calif., technology
nonprofit that distributes free electronic books, to make its
collection of more than 30,000 books accessible to blind users without
them having to install any screen-reading software.

He believes this could be the first of many Web-based accessibility

"Traditional desktop tools such as e-mail, word processors and
spreadsheets are moving to the Web," Bigham said. "Access technology,
which currently runs only on the desktop, needs to follow suit."

For more information, contact Bigham at (206) 271-6653 and
jbigham at cs.washington.edu,
or Ladner at (206) 543-9347 and
ladner at cs.washington.edu.

For more information on WebAnywhere, see

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