Chieko Asakawa recalls the painstaking process of translating her textbooks
to Braille when she was in college. No Braille textbooks were available, so family
members read while Chieko translated using a Braille typewriter. Translating an
English textbook required her family members to spell out each word – which
could take 20 to 30 minutes per page because Braille is “written” by punching
holes into paper.
When she joined IBM Research – Tokyo in 1985, Chieko dedicated her work to the digitization of Braille. Twenty-seven years later, the Japan Braille
Library has recognized Chieko for that dedication with the ninth Honma Kazuo
Chieko started by collaborating with Braille libraries and volunteer groups from across Japan to advance the digitization project. The group launched an
inter-library Braille network in Japan with goal of putting Braille books
online – in 1988.
Honma Kazuo Bunka Award
award was founded by the Japan Braille Library in 2004, recognition of its
blind founder, Kazuo Honma, who devoted his life to making books available to
the blind, helping to improve their quality of life and realize an inclusive
The Braille translation network
works like this: volunteers install Chieko’s digital Braille editor onto a PC. By
making Braille translation data available online, it allowed Braille libraries
to easily share books; helped reduce duplication of work by volunteers; and
allowed volunteers to split translation project among a number of different teams
in different locations.
network was initially hosted by IBM Japan. Today, it is operated by Sapie
Library, a nationwide online library managed by the Japan Braille Library and
the National Association of Institutions of Information Service for Visually
Impaired Persons of Japan – making Braille books available anytime, anywhere.
Chieko continued to improve Web
accessibility for the blind by developing a talking web browser that converts
text on Web pages to speech. Home Page Reader, developed in 1997, allowed a visually
impaired person to surf the Internet by spoken word. It was capable of
reading web pages in American or British English, French, German, Italian,
Spanish, Japanese and other languages, and has since been rolled up into IBM’s Easy
Web Browsing project.
Chieko continues to broaden her research scope beyond
visual impairment by looking at the further integration of computer technology
and human knowledge. She is now working on how crowdsourcing can help create
technologies that everyone can use and benefit from.
Labels: accessibility, Braille Library, Chieko_Asakawa, ibm research tokyo