Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Talking Internet access

I haven't tried this out for myself, but I just wanted to make you all aware that its out there.

By Ioana Albu July 1, 2008
Software developed at the UW now allows vision-impaired people to access the Internet, surfing the Web from public kiosks, libraries and public terminals without having to install expensive software that can cost up to $1,000.

The new technology, called WebAnywhere, is expected to provide free Internet accessibility to more than 10 million blind people in the United States alone.
The software reads Web pages aloud. Shortcut keys provide access to the Internet without a mouse. After signing in to the WebAnywhere homepage, the Web user enters a shortcut key that leads to a location bar, where he or she can type a URL and surf the Web. Web users need only be in a designated public location and have a pair of headphones.

The program was developed at the UW by Jeffrey P. Bigham, a doctoral student in computer science and engineering, with the supervision of professor Richard Ladner. The National Science Foundation and a Boeing professorship provided funding for the research and development of the project.

The development of WebAnywhere began nearly a year and a half ago.
“I was sitting in a talk with T.V. Raman, who was discussing converting a desktop application into a Web application,” Bigham said.

Unlike most screen readers, WebAnywhere is a Web application and does not require any additional software, making it accessible from nearly any computer.
This technology may ease the frustrations many blind and vision-impaired Web users have encountered for years.

Bigham said he has received many e-mails expressing gratitude for the new technology.

For the past month, WebAnywhere has been available by special request. This Alpha version, released June 25, is the first to grant access to the public.
“One of the reasons we want to get it out there is to increase interest in the project,” Bigham said.

Ongoing research at the UW may enhance the software by including features found on other desktop applications.

In the future, blind and vision-impaired Web users will be able to customize shortcut keys, control the speech rate and set the interface language by using personal profiles. Future versions may also be able to spell out spoken words and adjust their pronunciation.

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