Researchers in the computer science department at the University of Washington are using engineering and computational tools to overcome hurdles that blind and deaf individuals face when using technology such as cell phones and computers. Innovations developed for blind and deaf users may eventually lead to broader technological advancements, says Richard Ladner, UW Boeing professor in computer science and engineering, who’s working with UW TechTransfer to take his oldest project on accessibility for the deaf, MobileASL, to market. The project uses video compression technology to enable signing over video cell phones on low-bandwidth wireless networks, such as those in the U.S. Currently, deaf people can’t reliably use video cell phones to communicate using sign language because the videos are too choppy to be intelligible. Although designed with the deaf in mind, MobileASL could be used by anyone who wants better quality video phone calls, says Ladner, the child of deaf parents. Bringing the technology to market will require coordination among wireless companies, cell phone manufacturers, and video relay service companies, the latter of which provide government-subsidized assistance for deaf individuals. Ladner’s group is in conversation with all three types of companies. With slightly more than one million American Sign Language (ASL) users in the U.S., Ladner believes the technology has the potential to succeed commercially. Similar services are already on the market in Sweden and Japan, he points out. “Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs always think about the next iPhone, but I think there are a lot of smaller things with good markets too,” he says.