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Wanted: A Web for all of us
(IDG) -- A whopping 98 percent of all Web sites are inaccessible to the visually impaired, according to iCan.com, an online community devoted to people with disabilities. Programs that translate text into audio cannot read the code used to design the overwhelming majority of sites on the Internet today.
What's ironic is that in the early days of the text-based Internet, before the advent of the World Wide Web, this wasn't a problem because graphics were few, notes Bob Harvey, president and chief executive officer of iCan. But as Internet technology has advanced, "We've managed to build curbs," rather than tear them down, he says.
"Our first agenda item is making sure businesses are aware that the Web sites they're building are generally inaccessible to people with disabilities," Harvey says.
Calling attention to this issue is just one of the ways iCan seeks to make the Internet more accessible. This summer, iCan.com is providing on-line coverage of a torch relay sponsored by the American Association for People with Disabilities that is a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The relay started in Houston on June 11 and will visit a total of 24 cities in 60 days. It goes through Washington D.C. on July 26, and culminates in New York City on August 7.
ICan is also using the occasion to launch its own effort to close the "digital divide," so people with disabilities share in access to all the resources and information the Internet offers.
"The Internet is one of the best mediums for people with disabilities to attain independence," Harvey says.
To that end, iCan expects to launch within several weeks a site feature called the Computer Access Focus Group, which will recommend combinations of hardware, operating systems, software and other equipment based on a disabled person's physical capabilities.
"Our goal is to come up with a configuration of options that will most closely fit their needs," Harvey says. The focus group will tap the expertise of professionals in human-to-computer interface development and physical therapy at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan. Site visitors will also be able to ask questions.
The site already has channels for news, relationships, employment opportunities, and leisure activities. Throughout the summer, iCan is adding six new channels: independence and daily living; health and fitness; legislation and advocacy; money and benefits; parents and caregivers; and a commerce site called "shop@home." The shopping site will link to businesses that provide a variety of goods and services, from medical supplies to clothes to books to groceries, Harvey says.
"As a community Web site, people with disabilities shouldn't have to look all over the Web to find places to buy things," he says. Also, iCan will link only to sites that promise to make their sites fully accessible to people with disabilities.
"Over time, we'll sort out particular sites on their ability to fulfill that commitment," Harvey adds.
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