Program gives blind people access to Web

Posted: Monday, July 21, 2008

SEATTLE - The computer technology gap between those who see and those who can't just got a little smaller.

A new Web-based application that enables blind people to check a flight time on a public computer at the airport, plan a bus route at the library or type up a quick e-mail at an Internet cafe recently went live and its user base is growing.

WebAnywhere was developed by a computer science graduate student at the University of Washington as an alternative to computer-based software that helps the blind surf the Web on their home computers.

When the program was still in development, Sangyun Hahn, the University of Washington's first blind doctoral candidate in computer science, went to the library with Bigham so he could videotape him using the browser. "I was still setting up and he was already on the page," WebAnywhere developer Jeffrey Bigham said.

Once online, a blind Web surfer goes to the WebAnywhere browser, from where they can link to and then hear any page read out loud - as long as the computer has speakers or a headphone jack. The program can skip around the section titles, tab through charts or read the page from top to bottom.

Bigham says he hopes others will make improvements to his open-source software.

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