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May 28, 2008 at 3:45 PM

UW software for blind Web users wins Microsoft prize

Microsoft is flying University of Washington student Jeffrey Bigham to Paris where he’ll collect a grand prize in the Imagine Cup, a student programming contest sponsored by the company.

Bigham, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science, won for a project called WebAnyWhere. The Web-based screen reader helps blind people access the Web from almost any computer that can produce sound, without requiring expensive accessibility software. It basically reads Web pages aloud.

Here’s a description, from the paper on WebAnyWhere, by Bigham, Craig Prince and Professors Richard Ladner:

WebAnywhere generates speech remotely and uses prefetching strategies designed to reduce perceived latency. A user evaluation of the system is presented showing that blind users can use Web-Anywhere to complete tasks representative of what users might want to complete on computers that are not their own. A survey of public computer terminals shows that WebAnywhere can run on most.

Starting in June, the UW will host the WebAnyWhere service as a free public service.

So far, Microsoft has only announced finalists in the Imagine Cup, but Bigham’s project was the only finalist named for the “Interface Design Accessible Technology Award,” so he’s the winner.

The prize includes $8,000, the Paris trip (worth $4,000) and a $3,000 trip to Los Angeles to present the project to the conference on technology for people with disabilities in March.

Here’s a video presentation of WebAnyWhere:

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