1999 Conference Proceedings

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Dave Ellis & Alex McDonald
email: toucan2@globalnet.co.uk 
Project: http://on-line.org.uk 
Toucan Europe: http://toucan-europe.co.uk

Developments across Europe and in the UK identify the emergence of a new information society for the 21st Century in which all human activities are underpinned by the services provided by information and communication technologies.

At a European level there is a clear need to consider the requirements of disabled people in the access, use and design of information services available through the Internet.

12% of the European Union population which is disabled 35-40% of disabled people are 65 years old or over are working age and make up 6-8% of population aged 15-64.

44,845,500 Disabled people population from a total EU population of 373,713,000 (figures taken on 1st Jan 1997)

The EMPLOYMENT Initiative targets groups facing specific difficulties in the labour market. It provides financial support for innovative and transnational projects providing for vocational training and guidance, job creation measures, information and awareness raising and the development of new training and guidance systems.

HORIZON projects aim to support the integration of disabled people through the improvement of labour market opportunities. As the UK enters the Information Society then it must prepare all of its people to live and work within it. Conceptual 'bandwidth' needs to be considered to enable disabled people and local communities to come under the umbrella of the Information Society.

We have the concept of the Citizen accessing information through a variety of access points, whether they are Electronic Village Halls (EVH's), Libraries or community computer centres. Yet we have to ask if this is truly happening, does the Citizen have full access to these new 'gateways' or 'Community Portal Information points'?

At issue is the potential for people with disabilities to take full advantage of emerging telecommunications technologies and products that would enable them to function and compete fully in society.

Disabled people are not accessing current education and training opportunities because of:

NW England has established an information strategy with 5 other regions of the EU, to promote universal access to the opportunities and advantages of the Information Society. This has been done with a view to generating new employment and training opportunities, improving the quality of life, and addressing the challenges of structural adjustment and sustainable development.

The Online Project has, and will continue, to develop an electronic learning network available through the Internet providing support and facilities for disabled people to access information on training and employment opportunities. The network allows integrated access to sources of information and advice on:

There is a clear need to consider the requirements of disabled people in the access, use and design of information services available through the Internet. There is also a need to develop services, network services that disabled people want access to, and train and support disabled people for independent use.

Fostering of co-operative links (and provision of physical links) with organisations has been a major task within the project. In order to achieve this result the project is working in partnership with various organisations and projects locally, regionally and nationally. For example:

AN EU recognised qualification 'Certificate in Telematics' for Information workers within Information Providers and Disabled Organisations. Giving them the skills to use the Internet and the projects Info Service. The project has trained 28 information workers from a total of 12 different organisations. These numbers will increase as further training is organised in partnership with other organisations.

Training multiplied out to disabled individuals in use of the Info Service and Internet allowing independent access. This 'multiplying out' has raised its own difficulties, many disabled organisations appear to have limited direct contact with disabled individuals other than advice provision. As a result the project is directly accessing these individuals ourselves and co-ordinating training and 'taster' days around the use of the Internet and of course the access issues. The organisation of training and 'taster' events itself presents difficulties - the lack of fully accessible facilities, with regard to equipment, hardware and software and format of information. The concept of the Citizen accessing the Information Society has already been mentioned, stating that the Citizen can have full access to this Society, yet it is clear that it is simply not happening, especially for people with disabilities.

The Creation of an Information Service

The project has, and will continue to, collate existing information and learning resources, as identified by disabled organisations and people, in order to make them more widely accessible to the individuals and organisations that may wish to use them as a resource using information and communication technologies. The availability of local information will add a dimension well beyond the aspect normally associated with projects that simply connect individuals to the Internet.

Web and User Accessibility

The emergence of the WWW has allowed disabled users with telecomms equipment to interact as never before. However, new barriers have arisen such as the problem of accessibility.

With the project promoting the issue of accessibility to information for disabled people and developing good guidelines for information providers to follow, it has become clear that most organisations and projects are simply not addressing the issue of accessibility.

This issue was particularly highlighted during the AccessibilITy '98 event held in Manchester on the 25th September 1998. The event, promoted by the On-Line project in conjunction with the Greater Manchester Information Society Awareness project (ISaware), raised the issues that access is in fact being denied, not only in terms of user interfaces, but that people are unable to access the 'Gateways'/'Community Portal Points'. Facilities currently provided are based on the assumption that the Citizen, accessing the Information Society, receives all information visually, uses the computer two-handed, with a mouse etc. It was, and is clear that current and planned 'Citizen's access to the Information Society' projects are not taking into account the differing needs of these Citizens.

This work is being carried out with reference to the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Project. The Information Service has been built with accessibility in mind, using 'Bobby' an on-line disability access checker, and the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB)'s web page checker in the UK.

Transnational Activities with project partners in Spain and Italy:

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