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Social Inclusion through WEB Accessibility

Focus: Transition/University

Topic: Access and Information Technologies

Branislav Mamojka

Centre of Technical and Information Services

Slovak Blind and Partially Sighted Union

Sekulska 1

842 50 Bratislava

Slovak Republic

phone: +421-2-65420796

e-mail: mamojka@unss.sk

Martina Kobolkova

Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Informatics

Comenius University

Mlynska dolina

842 48 Bratislava

Slovak Republic

phone: +421-2-60295515

e-mail: kobolkova@fmph.uniba.sk

1 What could be done?

The most important factor harming social inclusion of visually impaired people is their limited access to information. The importance of information is still increasing and its inaccessibility excludes those people from society more and more. Fortunately technical development brings still more powerful tools to overcome that barrier and many accessibility features become standard features of information and communication technology.

To speed up this process of making electronic information accessible to visually impaired people Slovak Blind and Partially Sighted Union and Support Centre for Visually Impaired Students at Comenius University started intensive activities comprising training of access technology users, influence and/or education of web designers and legislation. For that purpose we submitted several projects, we will mention later on.

2 Which steps have been already made in our country?

2.1 Legislation

In our country there exists an Act ensuring access to public information including electronic information. Unfortunately, there is nothing related to accessibility for disabled people. Perhaps the statement that the information should be available to everybody seems to be democratic and helpful, but it is too weak due to its generality.

Fortunately, the National Programme for the Development of Living Conditions for Citizens with Disabilities in All Areas of Life, which was approved by the Slovak Government Resolution No.590 of 27 June 2001, contains a task 5.3.15, which requires stipulating an obligation by law to design government and public web sites to be accessible for persons with disabilities. It should be done till end of this year. We believe that our activities focused on web design will speed up its implementation.

2.2 New Projects

A) PROJECT

The support of the social reintegration of people with visual disability through making public electronic information accessible.

The objective of the project is the support of the social reintegration of people with visual disability through development of their capabilities for independent use of public electronic information necessary for their active, equal and full participation in the society, for communication with government and public authorities, to participate in distance learning, to use of services and participation in other activities accessible to sighted people by use of information and communication technologies, in particular through Internet.

The specific goal of the project is to create a system of specialized counseling and training of people with visual disability, which will enable them the optimal use of compensatory technical means, called access technology, ensuring accessibility of standard information and communication technologies, without sight control or only with the residual vision. The needed access technology is already available, but there is a great lack of qualified training and technical counseling. There is also absence or only very low knowledge how to design WEB pages to be accessible for people with disabilities.

The project is in full agreement with a Communication adopted by European commission On September 25, 2001 concerning improvement of the accessibility of public Web sites and their content which aim is to make Web sites more accessible to people with disabilities and older people. It is based on the Europe Action Plan 2002, adopted by the Feira European Council in June 2000, which is a wide-ranging initiative designed to speed up and extend the use of the Internet to all sectors of European society. The action plan seeks to bring European citizens on-line in all aspects of their lives, allowing them to participate in and benefit from the possibilities offered by digital technologies.

All potential visually handicapped users of access technology create the target group. At present there is approximately 250 such users of computers in our country. The number of users is still increasing, but the level of their training and knowledge is very low. It does not allow them fully benefit from all functions of access technology. The direct beneficiaries of the project are group of 8 instructors, 8 advisers and 48 trained users during the project execution.

The main activities are as follows:

1. Training of instructors of visually impaired users of computers equipped by access technology.

The training for different types of access technology will consist of two main parts. At first, the future instructors will be trained to use access technology in exactly the same way as their future blind or partially sighted trainees, e.g. without visual display. In the second part they will be trained how to teach.

2. Training of advisors to help users with technical problems related to use of access technology.

Advisors will be mainly recruited from the group of skilled users of access technology who will work on volunteer base. Their main task will be to help users of access technology to solve troubles occurring during its use, to help with installation, reinstallation, updates and upgrades of access software, to find hints and tricks to accomplish special tasks more effectively etc. But they will not train users of access technology. Their mission is based on the fact that incorrect setting of and manipulation with software and its insufficient knowledge cause most of troubles.

3. Creation of a regional training centers network equipped by access technology and closely linked to rehabilitation and other services provided to the visually impaired people.

Instructors will be members of specialistís teams working at regional counseling and rehabilitation centers of the Slovak Blind and Partially Sighted Union. It will ensure flexibility and complexity of training including preliminary skills training like mobility, Braille and keyboard skills, as well as the follow up activities like job seeking, working place adaptation etc.

4. Building and maintenance of an Internet portal serving as a pilot sample of an accessible Internet site.

It should be a standard full featured portal but meeting all requirements of accessibility for disabled people. It should be attractive and accessible for both sighted and visually disabled people; it should offer standard information and services as well as special information for and about disabled people. It should serve to visually disabled people as an optimal Internet site for training and first steps in world of electronic information and services.† It will serve to web designers as a sample of accessible Internet site and resource of information related to accessibility. We have already collected resources to start working on the portal and we hope that through advertisement and electronic services the portal will start gradually to bring resources to support dissemination of access technology and special information services for visually impaired people.

This is a project of Slovak Blind and Partially Sighted Union. More information could be found on web site http://www.unss.sk or received from project manager: mamojka@unss.sk.

B) PROJECT

Accessibility of Universities' web sites for visually impaired students

This project reflects the problems, which meet visually impaired students at Slovak Universities, trying to obtain important information form their University's web site. It could be timetable, subject curriculum, e-mail address of the lecturer, exam results, etc.

Support Centre for Visually Impaired Students is involved in this area since it's opening in 1993. As one of our key activities, we are teaching new students how to use access technology so that they can benefit from Internet based information resources in their student's life. Meeting all the problems students should fight with (e.g. image links without alt-text) we decided to make radical step in advocacy for accessible web sites at our Universities.

We feel as a crucial fact, that all together request form students, experiences of Support Centre and support of rector of Comenius University met in this project.

The objectives of the project:

1. Creation of web site, which will be the source of information about web site accessibility, techniques of accessible web design and possibilities of testing accessibility according to international standards in Slovak language.

This information will be based on international standards for accessible web design (http://www.w3.org/WAI/), supplemented with examples, frequent problems, mistakes, etc.

2. Survey on web site accessibility of Universities' web sites for visually impaired students in co-operation with target group - visually impaired students.

Preparation of criteria for testing, testing with students and evaluation of obtained results.

3. Presentation of project outcomes on it's web site and exchange of experiences on international level.

We would like to follow best practice from countries, which are ahead in similar initiatives. As a good example we can mention Czech project Blind Friendly Web (http://www.blindfriendly.cz/).

To overcame language barriers, which lie between Slovak web designers and information about web site accessibility, all the information about web site accessibility will be primary provided in Slovak language.

This is a project of Support Centre for Visually Impaired Students, supported by it's Alma Mater - Comenius University in Bratislava. More information could be found on website: http://cezap-www.fmph.uniba.sk or received from project manager: kobolkova@fmph.uniba.sk


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