Web-4-All: Web Accessibility Through Sight, Sound And Touch
Canada’s commitment to, and responsibility for promoting and ensuring a fair and egalitarian society are clearly expressed in such documents as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Employment Equity Act, and, more recently for federal government employees, the Policy on the Duty to Accommodate Persons with Disabilities in the Federal Public Service.
There has been a growing recognition that equal access to electronic information and services must be provided, and that less than total access for all could become extremely costly, both in social and economic terms. Anything less undermines the values of equality that have shaped this nation, and undermines economic opportunities. With more and more information and services available on the Internet, governments are increasingly concerned that the services they provide are equally accessible to all potential users, including Canadians with disabilities and those with literacy challenges.
The Government of Canada is supporting a wide range of initiatives to promote accessible Web content and standards. Industry Canada’s Web Accessibility Office is working with other federal government departments to develop accessibility standards for Government of Canada Web sites. It is also heading up an innovative pilot program that is placing more than 1000 assistive technology devices, called Web-4-All, in public Internet access sites across the country. With Web-4-All, users simply swipe a smart card into computers equipped with the technology, and their preferences, such as having text enlarged or read aloud, are instantly loaded.
The Web-4-all pilot initiative was made possible with the help of supporters and sponsors such as the University of Toronto’s Assistive Technology Resource Centre, which developed Web-4-All under contract to Industry Canada, and Bell Canada, Hitachi Canada and the Royal Bank of Canada, who donated the smart card technology used in this project.
Industry Canada’s commitment to this project underscores the importance of ensuring that the benefits of information technology are available to all Canadians. The Government of Canada’s leadership in this regard complements its Innovation Strategy, which is part of Canada’s program to build a more innovative economy and society.
WHAT IS WEB-4-ALL?
Web-4-All is an innovative technology that enables people with disabilities and low literacy levels, as well as seniors and people unfamiliar with computers, to use the Internet on public access computers. With Web-4-All hardware and software:
- people who are blind or partially sighted and people who do not read well can have type faces magnified or text read aloud;
- people who have limited dexterity - finding it difficult to work with a standard keyboard or mouse - can use tools, settings and displays that are easier to manipulate; and
- people who are not familiar with the Internet can have Web sites displayed in a clear and consistent way, according to their preferences.
- people who have low literacy levels or are learning English as a second language can have text highlighted as the words are read out.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
All Web-4-All users are given a “smart card” similar in size to a debit or credit card, which contains their individual preferences, such as having text read aloud or type faces magnified. Every time they log onto a public access computer, the users simply insert their card into a reader and the computer adjusts to their preferences. Web-4-All is the first technology of its kind capable of automatically loading individual user preferences.
WHERE CAN PEOPLE US WEB-4-ALL?
Currently, Web-4-All is being pilot tested at public Internet access sites in selected communities across Canada. These sites provide people with affordable access to the Internet in places such as community centres, schools, disability and literacy resource centres, drop-in centres and seniors’ facilities.
A list of public Internet access sites offering Web-4-All technology is available on the Web at http://www.web4all.ca/w4asite/english/resources_e.htm#pilotsites_e.
HOW WAS WEB-4-ALL DEVELOPED?
Industry Canada supported the University of Toronto’s Assistive Technology Resource Centre to develop the technology. Bell Canada, Hitachi Canada and the Royal Bank of Canada donated “smart card” technology used in the pilot projects across Canada.
WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE?
For more information on the pilot program, please visit the program’s Web site at http://www.web4all.ca.