WebAnywhere: Accessible Accessibility (AccessComputing News - Jan 2010)

Brian King, AccessComputing Staff

For a person with a visual impairment, a computer can initially present some accessibility challenges. However, there are a wide variety of software products available to help people of all abilities access and use a computer. One of the more popular products for people with visual impairments is a screen reader that uses a digital voice to read aloud text that appears on a computer screen. While a very helpful tool in making a specific computer accessible, screen readers are not always installed on public computers in libraries and Internet caf├ęs.

To make speech output available on any computer at any time, University of Washington alumnus Jeffrey Bigham developed WebAnywhere. Anyone can use this product with almost any web browser and operating system, without the need for additional software. WebAnywhere even predicts web content that may interest the user based on the individual's past history, and it pre-loads speech patterns allowing instant audio access to on-screen content.

Unlike many screen readers, WebAnywhere is free of charge. It can be accessed from webanywhere.cs.washington.edu.

Bigham was recognized as one of Technology Review's 2009 Young Innovators Under 35 for his creation of WebAnywhere and is currently an assistant professor in the Computer Science department at the University of Rochester.