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CONTACT: MELVIN O. SHAW
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0010; fax (319) 384-0024
e-mail: melvin-shaw@uiowa.edu

Release: June 5, 2000

IPAT, Iowa Department for Blind team to bridge 'digital divide'

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Working to bridge the so-called digital divide, the Iowa Program for Assistive Technology (IPAT) at University Hospital School and the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) have created training materials that could help more Iowans with disabilities take full advantage of the Internet.

IPAT and IDB collaborated to create "Designing Accessible Web Sites: Creating sites that are accessible to people with disabilities," a how-to booklet-guide for experienced and beginning webmasters at public and private sector offices and companies. The booklet, which contains tips on Java scripting, PDF files, frames and resources, was written by the IDB, and is the first product produced from IPAT's ongoing Internet accessibility project.

Mary Quigley, co-director, IPAT, says that because a significant number of disabled persons do not have access to computers and the Internet, it affects their ability to find employment. A major component of the project, she says, is to heighten Web designers' awareness of disabled persons' Internet needs.

"When designers learn from the beginning that access is an issue, it creates systemic change that carries over to other areas," Quigley says.

The IDB has provided free technical training to webmasters at Iowa State University, Quigley says. She adds that similar work is being done by IPAT at the UI's Center for Teaching, curriculum and instruction department at the College of Education, and the Libraries' TWIST program. The UI's Information and Technology Service is incorporating the booklet in its courses for Web designers, says Jane Gay, co-director, IPAT.

"All of these efforts mean a 'rippling effect,'" Gay says, adding that the booklet has raised awareness about, and questions on how to improve e-mail and other types of electronic communication.

"After four months, we knew that 10 percent of the sites we initially identified were improved just with mailing the booklet to them and without major costs," Gay says.

"Web accessibility is practical for businesses, and it creates a larger market. As a society, we need a more social point of view. We should be more inclusive, based on the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, as well as being guided by altruistic motivators," Gay says.

Already, the booklet has been sent to 500 private and public offices and companies, 65 computer training programs, and many of the state's major employers. In the future, IPAT will work with librarians at the state's 340 public and private libraries to provide greater Web access for the disabled.

The booklet can be accessed at http://www.uiowa.edu/infotech/WebAccess.htm