How can information technology help improve quality of life for all of us? How can we easily access products and information without using the sense of vision to communicate and interact? What kind of interface will adapt to user needs? Chieko Asakawa, blind since the age of fourteen and now an expert in accessibility research, is working on answering these questions.
Chieko has been instrumental in furthering accessibility research and development for the past two decades. Her early digital Braille work in the 1980s is still helping the blind community in Japan to access books. In 1997, her work on the groundbreaking voice browser -- IBM Home Page Reader, which was made available in the U.S., Europe and Asia -- opened up the Web and its information resources to the blind. Its interface technology has been widely adopted by other voice browsers.
As visual user interface and multimedia content have become increasingly popular on the Internet, Chieko has been working on finding ways for visually impaired people to enjoy the benefits of these advances. Chieko and her team have developed a number of pioneering technologies, including a disability simulator called aDesigner, which helps Web designers identify potential design issues to make their websites more user-friendly to all; a tool called aiBrowser, which for the first time helps visually impaired users to access streaming video, animation and other visual online content. And Chieko and teams in IBM developed the Accessibility Tools Framework, which offers standardized design and application programming interfaces, allowing developers to create accessibility tools and applications easily and cost effectively. Contribution of these technologies and the framework to the open source community, Eclipse Foundation, may help stimulate assistive software innovation to advance Web 2.0 content accessibility.
Since summer 2008, Chieko has led the Social Accessibility project. Based on collaboration software developed by her team, it creates an open, collaborative environment where blind users, developers and sighted "supporters" work together to solve real life Web accessibility issues raised by blind users. A variety of accessibility technologies that her team developed, as well as findings gained through the project, are part of the innovative accessibility improvement solution that IBM offers today. To explore ways to design a multimodal interface on mobile devices for use by the elderly, semiliterate or illiterate people and individuals with limited or no access to information technology, Chieko initiated an Open Collaboration Research project in 2010 with IBM researchers in India and Japan as well as with universities in India and Japan.
Chieko joined IBM in 1985 after completing the computer science courses for the blind at Lighthouse Japan. She received a B.A. degree in English literature from Otemon University in 1982, and a Ph.D in Engineering from the University of Tokyo in 2004.
She is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Information Processing Society of Japan, and IBM Academy of Technology. She has been supporting accessibility related open standards efforts, and 2010 she served as a co-general chair for the international conference for Web accessibility (W4A). She was inducted into the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame in 2003, and both within and outside of IBM, she has been actively working to help women engineers pursue technical careers. Chieko was appointed to IBM Fellow in 2009, IBM's most prestigious technical honor.