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Release: Feb. 27, 2002

UI web access exhibit shows what the disabled 'see' (or don't) on the web

You think your beautiful new high-tech website says "Ours is the best company in the world," but what it says to a sight-impaired visitor is "script, script, script, script," endlessly. You've designed an inaccessible site.

With more and more business done online and paperless transactions becoming mainstream, web access for people with disabilities is already a serious issue. A group of University of Iowa students, staff, and faculty concerned about access have set up an exhibit that gives viewers the opportunity not only to see the problems first hand, but to see some of the solutions.

The exhibit is open to the public, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday, March 28 at the New Media Day event in the Wayne Richey Ballroom of the Iowa Memorial Union.

Doug Barkema, a student member of the Universal Web Access Group, says the group was formed to examine whether the UI should implement a policy for web design and web access.

"The internet has crossed barriers and connected people all over the world to information and people they'd never otherwise have access to," Barkema says. "But some websites have certain attributes or have been designed with a certain type of software that makes it difficult for a disabled person to access the site."

For example, the visually impaired often use screen readers that can read the words on a computer screen, and there are several other assistive techniques and devices in common use. They can all be rendered useless, however, by web site design and software.

"It's actually not that hard to take accessibility into account and design a site that does everything you want for every kind of visitor," Barkema says.

The access group's exhibit will allow visitors to "see" what accessible and non-accessible sites "look like," using an assortment of assistive technologies.

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