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Swiss village provides web services for the blind

Blind people can use earphones and braille readers to surf the internet (pgm medien) pgm medien

A Swiss village is helping visually handicapped people to find their way through the maze of the World Wide Web.

This content was published on November 28, 2003 - 10:23

The village of Biberist has designed its homepage in such a way that everybody can get the information they need.

A young man sits in front of a blank screen. His fingers quickly type out www.biberist.ch on the keyboard and the website opens – but the screen remains black.

The man is surfing on the website of the village of Biberist in canton Solothurn.

He is blind and the only way for him to obtain information over the internet is by listening to a voice or using a Braille reading device.

Special navigation

“As blind people cannot read what’s on the screen the information is either read out loud by a computer voice or put into a reading device that converts the copy into Braille,” Arnold Schneider, chairman of the non-governmental organisation Access for All, told swissinfo.

Blind people navigate the Biberist website via keyboard, cursors and access keys, but they never get a complete overview of the page.

Instead the navigation tools of the reading device help them find the desired information.

Beat Pfarrer, Biberist financial administrator and webmaster, wanted to make the village’s new homepage more accessible for handicapped people.

He says the law coming into force next year demands that cantons and communities enable access to the internet for all.

“The law says that public administrations in Switzerland have to facilitate access to all their services as much as possible,” he told swissinfo.

“We want to provide comprehensive information for everybody,” he added.

No frills

First-time “seeing” visitors to www.biberist.ch often find the no-frills website well structured and easy to read, but normally fail to notice anything special about the site.

“Well, that’s what it is all about,” said Pfarrer. “A website for handicapped people doesn’t need any frills.”

The written version of the site does not have any unnecessary features such as pictures, flash animations or Java script.

The website consists solely of text in html format – the format sites are written in all over the world.

W3C demands

Leena Majaranta of Tankred Informatik AG, a company that has worked on the design of the website, says that setting up a website for visually impaired people involves a lot of work and cannot be done within a few days.

“We had to meet the demands of the W3C [World Wide Web] consortium on how you design websites for handicapped people,” she told swissinfo.

The village of Biberist does not get any help with putting content on its website.

The software used, the Content Management System (CMS), puts the copy into graphics as well as into the text version of the site, as there is no time to feed two systems with information.

“Most communities in Switzerland are still far off having a website that fulfils different needs,” said Pfarrer.

swissinfo, Etienne Strebel (translation: Billi Bierling)

In brief

The village of Biberist, in canton Solothurn, has created an official website that can also be used by blind people.

Most blind people surf the internet by listening to a voice or by using a Braille reading device.

The Biberist website has no unnecessary features such as pictures, flash animations or Java script, making it simpler for visually impaired people to use.

In 2004, public administrations in Switzerland will have to enable access to their websites for the entire population.

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