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 machines.
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 http://webanywhere.cs.washington.edu.