IBM has developed a service called Web Adaptation Technology (WAT), which allows disabled users to make standard web pages (including those that are not W3C compliant) more accessible without having to delve into their desktop operating systems.
Users access standard websites via a host system and a small program downloaded to their desktop computer, which adjusts pages to make them easier to read. They can set up and store personal settings on the system which are activated every time they log on. "It turns the issue of accessible websites on its head," says Mark Wakefield, IBM's corporate community affairs manager. "It will be many years before the majority of sites are accessible. Rather than wait to get them converted, WAT enables people to manipulate web pages now."
The service is suitable for use by people with a range of disabilities, from elderly people who need large text sizes to people with learning difficulties who require a speech solution. Adjustments that are possible using WAT include changes to colours, background, text sizes, line spacing and fonts. Users can also choose to eliminate banner advertisements and other images and adjust keystroke timings. These are standard features that have been bought together into a simple package which means users don't have to go into their operating systems.
WAT is being offered free to not-for-profit organisations able to distribute the service to elderly and disabled people. IBM is looking to sign up large organisations that can make WAT available to at least 500 people in the first year and over 1,000 in the second year. Technical support for WAT will be provided by AbilityNet (the main UK organisation for championing IT for people with disabilities). Providing WAT free is part of IBM's Community Relations and is highly commendable; however I would like IBM to provide it as a commercial offering so that ISPs and similar organisations could offer it as a value-add service for their disabled clients, it could also mean that the server functionality could be supplied locally, rather than from an IBM site in the US.
I have seen the product in action and it is very easy to use and does make difficult sites easier to use (even bits of the Bloor sites that we have not yet upgraded). WAT undoubtedly makes websites accessible; but it is no excuse for corporations not to get their act together and produce complaint accessible sites. Bloor will continue to campaign, educate, cajole and assist toward that aim.
If you are disabled and would like to be able to use WAT please talk to your disability organisation and persuade them to sign up with IBM and AbilityNet to provide the service.
If you work for a disability group, or if you do not know who to contact please email Mark Wakefield at firstname.lastname@example.org.