New software allows blind people surf the Internet from any PC


Written on Saturday, June 28, 2008 by Gemini

US scientists say they have written new software that enables the blind to surf the Internet at any place.

Richard Ladner, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington (UW), revealed that the software – dubbed WebAnywhere – can read aloud Web text on any computer with speakers or headphones. “This is for situations where someone who’s blind can’t use their own computer, but still wants access to the Internet: At a cyber caf, a school, at a friend’s house, etc,” said Ladner. Doctoral student Jeffrey Bigham developed WebAnywhere under Ladner’s supervision. Unlike current screen-reading software, WebAnywhere is the first accessibility tool to be hosted on the Web – meaning it doesn’t have to be downloaded onto a computer.It processes the text on an external server located in UW, 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.While testing, the researchers asked a few visually impaired people to use it to do three things – check email, look up a bus time table and search for a restaurant’s phone number. People using WebAnywhere – which, so far, works only in English – were able to successfully complete all three tasks, using a variety of machines and Internet connections. The free program and audio-visual demonstrations are available online at

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