Thursday, May 03, 2007

Web access: Head's up on time-consuming project and GAID initiative

I will be meeting with a colleague and the head of his university’s web site portal in the coming days. In preparation for this meeting, I will be examining the university’s web content. This will include examining the least prefered design route the university has taken, offering text-only pages, which were recently offered as an accessible alternative to meet the letter of the law in Section 508 compliance...Grrr. Additionally, I will also be looking at web sites being offered by other school’s in the same university system.

My reason for telling you this is to give you a head’s up that posting may be a little on the light side here at Access Ability for the next few days, due to the time commitment I will need to review the large amount of web pages.

I’m not one to leave you hanging high and dry, though. Below is a recent news item related to this very subject of accessibility to web content for people with disabilities who use assistive technology. I will also follow up this with a couple more posts related to this subject before knuckling down on the research for my pending project.

An interesting article in
Reports on the latest efforts of the United Nations’
Global alliance working to bridge the information divide.

This article informs readers about the goals of the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development (GAID),which has global players from academia, governments, the private sector, and civil society. A strong demonstration of the commitment from the technological industry can be sensed just by noting that the current GAID chairman is Craig Barrett, the chairman of Intel.

GAID’s primary objectives span a wide spectrum, but two areas of the groups interest are discussed in the article; gaining more saturated broadband penetration in Africa and developing better technology solutions to assist people with disabilities in information access.

Explaining the group’s methodology, Sarbuland Khan, GAID's executive coordinator, said, "The goal is not that we, the UN, do it, but we try to get the partners to do it themselves and show that the UN can catalyze. We don't have the resources or the expertise, but we can convene the right people around the right table to work on these issues.”

Another source cited in the article is Daniel Aghion, executive director and co-founder of the Wireless Internet Institute (W2i), which has been working with GAID since its days as the UN’s ICT Task Force, the predecessor to GAID. In December, 2006, the United Nations adopted a convention protecting the rights of people with disabilities to education, health, labor, and other needs. The UN has encouraged all 192 of its member states to ratify this convention, because, according to Aghion, approximately ten percent of the global population has some impairment keeping them from accessing information technology.

As for the United States, Aghion says, "In the U.S., some policies have been set to address that community and are embedded in the Americans with Disabilities Act, but—as far as information technology is concerned—they have not been very actively enforced."

This goes back to the adage about laws only being as good as their enforcement. If things work as planned, the proposals GAID has set out offer some teeth for accountability towards the end of enforcement.

Again, as I’ve posted previously, the United States has yet to sign this UN convention. Please take an active role and contact the White House and your legislators, encouraging our country to sign off on this potential powerful tool for accessibility.

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