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Without Sight, a Visionary Leader

Chieko Asakawa connects disabled users to the Web

Chieko Asakawa connects disabled users to the Web

When accessibility researcher Chieko Asakawa first started using computers, the word “accessibility” was not in common use, and the computer world was unwelcoming for many with disabilities. No text-to-speech technology was available to let Asakawa, who is blind, access text on computer screens. “However, I could see the potential to help bridge the gap between sighted and blind people with IT,” she says.

Now an IBM Fellow and CTO of accessibility research and technology for IBM Research, Asakawa arrived at IBM’s Tokyo lab in the early ’80s as a student researcher working on a Braille editing network. Before such a system connected accessibility workers across Japan, volunteers had to translate books by hand onto Braille paper, which could take a year per volume and resulted in duplicated efforts from region to region.

“Internet technologies were a paradigm shift for persons with disabilities,” Asakawa says. “I cannot explain well enough how much accessibility technologies have been changing our lives and have potential to bring benefits.” Asakawa has long been one of the people driving those benefits, and it’s earned her fame in the technology world, including her IBM fellowship, induction into the Women in Technology International hall of fame, and this year’s Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology’s Women of Vision award for leadership.

Morgon Mae Schultz is a copy editor for MSP TechMedia

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