Close your eyes. Plug your ears. Now try to surf the Web. One hundred thousand Americans and millions around the world face this challenge every day. That’s why a new U.S. government initiative helps low-income blind and deaf people navigate the information superhighway.

In its first 18 months, iCanConnect has supplied 2,000 users with video magnifiers, screen readers and Braille embossers to help them use mobile devices and access the Internet. One user, Tanisha Verdejo, told Fox News: “It’s opened up my whole world.”

WebAnywhere software developed by a University of Washington student enables blind people to use any Internet-connected computer.
“It’s opened up my whole world,” says Tanisha Verdejo. (© AP Images)

ICanConnect depends on existing equipment. But computer scientists and entrepreneurs are devising more tools to open the Web to the disabled.

In Germany, experts are developing animated online characters, avatars, that will help deaf people use sign language to communicate online.

A small firm with offices in Australia and the United Kingdom has developed Internet-based software that enables hearing-impaired students to read what their teachers are saying on tablet devices or laptops.

A 2010 U.S. law requires that Internet-based communication technology be accessible by people with disabilities. President Obama praised the new law, declaring that “Americans with disabilities are…entitled to not only full participation in our society, but also full opportunity.”