Web-4-All empowers disabled, immigrants with IT

A Government On-Line initiative seeks to remove Web access barriers for disabled Canadians as well as recent immigrants.

Launched Tuesday, Industry Canada’s Web-4-All program equips government-funded Community Access Program (CAP)

Internet access sites with assistive technology, says Industry Canada Web Accessibility Office manager Lawrence Eutenier.

There are thousands of CAP sites in communities across Canada, which provide Internet access to people living in rural and remote areas, as well as urban centers throughout the country. The CAP sites have done a great job of providing Internet access to Canadians who may not otherwise had the opportunity to surf, Eutenier says. However the ministry recognized that just making a computer available may not be enough for someone with a disability for example.

The ministry contacted the University of Toronto’s Assistive Technology Resource Centre in 2000 asking for help. The centre’s researchers then created Web-4-All, a solution that combines software and hardware to reduce barriers to computer use.

“”The program has speech synthesis (which reads text aloud) that can be used by the visually impaired. It can also adjust monitor colours to deal with colour blindness,”” Eutenier says. “”It can simplify the page layout for people who aren’t used to using a computer at all. You can also have certain parts of the text highlighted and the computer will read them aloud, that would be helpful for people learning English, new Canadians.””

The system can also utilize a track ball instead of mouse, something Eutenier says is quite helpful to people with motor skill difficulties.

Mary Reid, executive director of the St. John’s Independent Living Resource Centre, says her CAP is already seeing the benefit of the technology. Web-4-All has been added to the Newfoundland community centre’s CAP station and has been running on it for a couple of months.

Reid says the centre serves mostly the disabled with a wide range of special needs, so the biggest help for them comes in the form of a smart card used for the personalization of the assistive technology suite in Web-4-All. Each user can select, save and deploy their own interface preferences using a smart card, which then automatically configures a suite of required software. The cards, donated by Bell Canada and Royal Bank of Canada as well as Hitachi-donated readers, effectively turn the CAP terminals into personal computers.

“”Not having to do a lot of typing every time you get on the computer is a big help to folks who can’t for whatever reason type fast,”” she says. “” These are public computers so the preferences are changed all the time.””

The program is also looking at how this technology can provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The St. John’s In

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