IBM and Carnegie Mellon Engineers Develop Accessibility Tools
Tom Spendlove posted on December 17, 2015 | 6375 views

Chieko Asakawa is blind, and instead of letting her disability limit her she finds ways to perform the actions she is currently unable to perform. In her TED Talk How new technology helps blind people explore the world Asakawa demonstrates some of her inventions for accessibility, and discusses her desire to be independent.

After losing her sight in her teens the loss of independence was a big adjustment. Textbooks in particular were difficult because braille texts were not available so she needed her brothers to read to her. As Chieko started her engineering career she noticed there was no technology that could create braille books. She worked to develop a braille editor, braille dictionary and a braille library network.

Asakawa’s big idea here is that accessibility ignites innovation. She uses the example of the telephone’s invention as a tool for deaf users to show that designing for people with accessibility issues benefits society as a whole.

The demonstration is an app called NavCog that speaks instructions to the user exactly how far and where to walk to exit a building. Then the app uses facial recognition to tell Chieko that she is about to pass a person and the person’s name and mood. Holding her phone up to food in a cafe allows Asakawa to identify a bag of potato chips and then be chided into buying fruit instead of a chocolate bar.

Chieko has also created an open source community to build cognitive assistance tools that will aid in accessibility. The community is based on the joint projects between IBM Research and Carnegie Mellon University. The Human-scale Localization Platform (HULOP) is housed in the IBM cloud and allows supporters of the project to contribute to the overall map by entering Bluetooth points.

Asakawa is an amazing inventor with a long history that started with IBM’s Home Page Reader, released in 1997. She was awarded Japan’s Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon in 2013 and continues to do great work. This facial and mood recognition software is full of potential not just for accessibility but also for society as a whole.

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