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Gov asks disabled users how it can make web easier

Closed caption tech and meaningful links wanted

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The government has asked for views on what problems disabled people face when using the web and other technologies and whether laws and regulations should be changed to improve accessibility.

A web-based forum has been established to ask users how laws and guidance could be improved to enable wider access to information presented online.

The website has been set up by the eAccessibility Forum, a group made up of government and industry and voluntary sector bodies which works to improve access to technology. The forum reports to the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport.

Visitors to the eAccessibility Forum website will be asked to share their experiences of using websites and other online services and any difficulties they have experienced. They will also be encouraged to tell the Forum how its own website can be improved.

Accessibility standards help people with visual, auditory, physical, cognitive and neurological disabilities access the web. They can also be useful for older web users with accessibility needs.

In the UK websites are legally required to be accessible and usable under anti-discrimination laws. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), part of the not-for-profit World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), produces international guidelines to help web designers and developers better meet these requirements.

Using text alternatives for images and meaningful names for links rather than non-descriptive labels such as 'click here' make website navigation easier for people using screen-reading technologies, while large or enlargeable text and images can make it easier for users with poor sight to read and understand content. Accessibility can also be improved by implementing closed caption technology on audio content.

The government said that a more accessible website helps providers reduce costs and potentially increase business, while enabling more users to access information quickly and easily.

The eAccessibility Forum website asks users to comment on how existing laws and guidance can be used to help or hinder access to technology and whether any changes could be made to improve existing rules. It asks for the specific issues disabled users face when using consumer technology, and what more could be done to ensure that accessibility is "designed in" to new equipment.

The website also asks users how best to promote accessibility standards, while asking for examples of organisations which are already effectively spreading the message.

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said that making the internet more accessible would enable everybody to share in its benefits.

"The internet has changed the world but too many people are excluded from the digital revolution," he said.

"This new website will allow businesses involved in the forum and government to hear directly from users about the problems they have using the internet. I urge people to visit the site and tell us what we can do to make the internet more accessible for them."

A summary of discussion and feedback from the site would be made available quarterly, the government said. It added that it aimed to see a noticeable difference in accessibility by the London Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.

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