Accessibility Ignites Innovation

Back to Blog
Leaders in Innovation

Accessibility Ignites Innovation

Meet 2019 NIHF Inductee Chieko Asakawa!

We are honored to have Chieko Asakawa join the National Inventors Hall of Fame®.

The Invention

Asakawa is responsible for developing the Home Page Reader — the first practical voice browser that allowed blind and visually impaired users to navigate the internet.

Developed in Japanese and then translated into 11 languages, the Home Page Reader became a widely used web-to-speech system. It has influenced many of our current technologies.

The Inventor

After studying English literature at Otemon Gakuin University, Asakawa discovered a passion for science, showing us that it is never too late to explore what ignites your innovative spirit.

A swimming accident had resulted in an injury that damaged Asakawa’s optic nerve when she was only 11, causing complete blindness by the age of 14. Using her experience to inform her inventing, Chieko Asakawa is a pioneer in making technology accessible.

“I wanted to be freed from relying on someone. That became my strong desire to ignite innovations later in my life,” Asakawa said.

Attending computer science courses for the blind at Nippon Lighthouse, she joined IBM Tokyo as a researcher in 1985. Asakawa worked on several digital braille projects including developing an English to braille translation system. Her early projects provided the blind community in Japan with access to braille books.

The Impact

“After the development of the Home Page Reader, I really felt we could achieve information accessibility, and I could become more independent,” she said. “But that is not enough.”

Still working for IBM in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, Asakawa’s work on accessibility has continued to solve issues faced by the visually impaired.

NavCog is a voice-controlled app developed by Asakawa and her team of student researchers at Carnegie Mellon University that allows blind and visually impaired users to navigate public spaces such as hospitals, museums and airports with confidence.

“Confidence and independence are really key to participate in our society actively. And again, I felt technology can keep opening up our lives,” she said.

Throughout her career, she has focused on real-world applications of technology that can create opportunities for disabled persons to participate in society actively.  

Asakawa is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). She has been awarded the Women of Vision Award by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and has been named a fellow of the Society of Women Engineers.

Asakawa will join the ranks of other global innovators in the National Inventors Hall of Fame during the 2019 Induction Ceremony on May 2.

IBM will present her award onstage, showing their support for her innovative work.   

Related Articles