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 three decades. Her early digital Braille work in the 1980s is still helping the blind community in Japan to access digital Braille books. In 1997, her work on the groundbreaking voice browser -- IBM Home Page Reader, which was made available in Japan, 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 and her team developed a number of pioneering technologies to help visually impaired people enjoy the benefits of these advances. Disability simulator called aDesigner helps Web designers identify potential design issues to make their websites more user-friendly to all. For the first time, aiBrowser helps visually impaired users to access streaming video, animation and other visual online content. Accessibility Tools Framework 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, have helped stimulate accessibility software innovation.
In the summer of 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. 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 as well as with universities in India and Japan. Since 2011, Chieko and her team have been working together with the University of Tokyo on a project called Senior Cloud, which is one of the Japan Science and Technology Agency's S-innovation program projects, to innovate an information communication technology platform for the hyper-aged society in Japan to help exploit the power of senior citizens.
Today, Chieko is on assignment in the U.S., working with the Carnegie Mellon University to find out how accessibility technologies can play a key role in the real world to help create opportunities for more people to actively participate in the society. They openly collaborate with communities around the world by open sourcing fundamental technologies for researchers, developers and users to accelerate the cognitive assistant research and development.
Chieko joined IBM in 1985 after completing the computer science courses for the blind at Nippon Lighthouse. She received a B.A. degree in English literature from Otemon Gakuin University in 1982, and a Ph.D in Engineering from the University of Tokyo in 2004.
She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Information Processing Society of Japan, and IBM Academy of Technology. 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. In 2013, the government of Japan awarded the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon to Chieko for her outstanding contributions to accessibility research, including the development of the voice browser for the visually impaired.