CNIB summer camp helps blind with Web design

TORONTO – When most kids return from camp, they come home with little more than a few mosquito bites, some popsicle stick art and a repertoire of ghost stories. However, when the 22 participants at this year’s CNIB Gretzky SCORE (Summer

Computer Opportunities in Recreation and Education) Teen Camp leave their hometowns this weekend, they’ll be taking along a message of education and technology for other blind and visually impaired teenagers through the creation of a fully accessible Web portal.

SCORE camp was created in 1985 after Wayne Gretzky struck up a conversation with a group of blind teenagers while waiting in an airport and was impressed that they recognized his voice from listening to hockey games on television. Together with his father Walter Gretzky, the SCORE project was funded to improve access to technology for teens who are blind, visually impaired or deafblind.

Campers are given access to technology at IBM Canada’s Markham, Ont., campus, where they worked together to build the E3A portal — Employment, Entertainment, Education and Access.

Bill McLean, vice-president of manufacturing, development and marketing operations at IBM Canada, said that the company’s participation in the camp is aligned with the corporate belief that technology should be accessible to everybody.

“”For the past six years SCORE campers have taken over — and I mean really taken over — our customer education centre in Markham, where they have access to our classrooms, hardware and software,”” he said.

In a brief speech prior to the camp’s award ceremonies, McLean encouraged the participants to examine careers outside of traditional paths.

“”Keep your options open, focus on maths and sciences, learn about technology and get comfortable with technology, although from what I’ve seen, you’re already very comfortable with it,”” he said.

With help from Jason Thompson, a former SCORE participant and current Webmaster at the CNIB, the group created a portal focusing on employment, education, entertainment and accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired.

The employment section of the portal includes links to sites with information about topics such as how to write a resume and at what point during the interview process it is appropriate to disclose information about your disability. The education section outlines scholarship opportunities and links to colleges and universities, as well as career options.

The section on accessibility provides links to low tech and high tech aids as well as Web sites that are easily accessible to blind and visually impaired users, while the entertainment section lists sports organizations, movie theatres and video games that are inclusive.

Thompson said that the portal idea naturally evolved from projects completed in previous SCORE camps.

“”In 1992 we produced a newspaper. In the late 1990s, we did a Web site, and now we’ve got E3A,”” he said. “”This is a dynamic portal that will be built upon every year by new SCORE campers.””

Jessica Rathwell, an 18-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., said that while she had created her own Web page using Front Page, the E3A portal was her first time using HTML.

“”It took a couple of days to get the hang of it, but it was fun. I’m glad I know it now,”” she said. “”Camp was awesome.””

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