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Accessibility Proxy seeks interested ISPs

From: Nick Kew <nick@webthing.com>
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2002 21:55:19 +0100 (BST)
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <20020418214645.Y1502-100000@fenris.webthing.com>

This is a proposal with a lot of potential for improving web
accessibility, but it needs support (i.e. willingness to deploy
it for customers) from ISPs.  I am posting it here in the hope
that some readers may be able to suggest ISPs likely to be
interested in the proposal.


According to RNIB figures, there are 1.7 million visually impaired
people in the UK.  Various other possibly-relevant disability
statistics have recently been posted to this list.

Disabled people will often be at a disadvantage in everyday
activities such as shopping or going to the library, so in
principle the Web has proportionally more to offer to them
than to the fully able-bodied.  Although the disabled are in
no sense a homogenous group, they should be seen as a natural
market to providers of Internet-based services.

Whereas a well-designed website is by definition accessible to
such people without undue effort or frustration, many thousands
of websites place wholly unnecessary obstacles in the way of
disabled users: for example, illegible small text and colour schemes,
text-as-images, and misuse of frames, scripting, flash, or other
forms of presentation.

Pages presenting problems are represented in every sector, from the
personal homepage through to household-name corporate and government
sites.  On the one hand, increasing awareness of the issue and the
law should help improve the situation over time; on the other hand,
there are a lot of seriously defective authoring and publishing
tools, and ignorance is notoriously hard to cure.


As a solution to improving accessibility on the web as a whole,
an ISP could offer an Accessibility Proxy to users, undertaking
content repair on-the-fly.  Existing systems such as the Site Valet
toolkit demonstrate the feasibility of repairing content, and
mod_xml now provides the necessary technology foundation for
us to undertake such repairs in real time, even on a heavily-loaded
server or proxy.  I also anticipate using it to enable a substantial
expansion to the range of problems we can automatically repair.

The advantage to users is not only much-improved web accessibility.
It can also help with the most fundamental problem of many disabled
users: the cost (real or perceived) of getting online in the first
place.  The minimum requirement for users of the proposed proxy has
virtually no cost: "throwaway" secondhand hardware and free software
will suffice for many users to get online.

To the ISP, this will enable you to offer a much-enhanced service
to a substantial group, as well as bring in new users.
For the first ISP(s) to offer such services, there could also
be some very positive publicity.

To take this project forward, I need to make contact with ISPs who
would be interested in offering such a service, either installed on
their own networks or operated as a webservice.  Any leads, or
forwarding of this message, will be much appreciated.

Nick Kew

Site Valet - the mark of Quality on the Web.
Received on Thursday, 18 April 2002 16:55:23 UTC

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