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Blind demand better Web access

Blind and visually impaired people are accustomed to using braile to read, but now need better internet access to keep up Keystone

Campaigners for the blind and partially sighted in Switzerland are calling for websites to be made more accessible for those with visual disabilities.

The Swiss Federation for the Blind and Visually Impaired (SBV) has joined forces with the organisation “Access for All” to ensure that their members do not miss out on the Internet.

According to the SBV’s Urs Kaiser, the Web has already enriched the lives of many blind and visually impaired people in Switzerland.

“The Internet has given me an enormous amount of independence,” he says. “I have never had access to so much information.” Like many other partially sighted people, Kaiser gets his daily news fix by logging onto newspaper websites.

Banking difficulties

However, the problems start when it comes to shopping or banking online. Some websites are just too complex, while others are graphic rather than text based, creating further difficulties, explains Kaiser.

Those with visual disabilities can surf the web thanks to “screen reader” software, which uses a synthetic voice to “read” what is written on the website. Used with a Braille keyboard, the software also allows the user to send and receive emails.

But when words are wrapped within a graphic, as is the case with many websites, the “screen reader” software is unable to pick out the text. “Navigation around numerous sites is too complex and inaccessible,” reveals Kaiser.

Arnold Schneider from Access for All, which campaigns for technology to be better adapted for people with disabilities, insists that the Internet should be a valuable resource for the blind and visually impaired.

Potential benefits

He says the Web offers previously unavailable opportunities to shop online, sort out administrative problems, access rail timetables, book holidays, plus a whole host of other services.

“Internet access is so much more important for the handicapped since they often suffer from restricted mobility,” he says. “The greater access they have to the Internet, the more independent they become. But technology is always erecting new barriers.”

Schneider adds that information technology has now become such a part of everyday life that the blind and visually impaired must have unrestricted access to it.

According to Access for All, the Swiss government has already responded to the needs of those with visual disabilities. A working group is currently examining how to improve access to the website of the federal authorities, “The Federal Chancellery is taking our requests seriously,” says Schneider.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR