MPs call for better access to Web sites

A group of MPs is campaigning to ensure that people with impairments such as blindness are not excluded from using the Web

MPs are looking to recommend the use of text-to-speech in a bid to improve public sector websites.

The All Party Parliamentary Internet Group (APIG) is examining what the government needs to do to improve access for people with disabilities such as deafness and blindness so they may be included in the online world.

"We've got quite a bit of work to do," said chairman for APIG Derek Wyatt, MP. "We've just done a survey with the Cabinet Office on this and it's made us rethink. We've got to find a way of helping everyone out with their websites."

Wyatt said that more websites should use text-to-speech or text-to-Braille software to include deaf and blind people. APIG has said that pre-lingually deaf people could benefit from such software because English could be almost as inaccessible as oral speech for them.

On the group's Web site, an APIG spokesman said: "One-to-one sign-language translation is expensive and in short supply, but the advent of intelligent speech recognition associated with avatar sign-generators could give BSL [British Sign Language] users unrestricted access to the spoken and written word."

In 1995, Parliament passed the Disability Discrimination Act, a law to enforce the rights and prevent discrimination against disabled people. APIG members have said they want to ensure this is also translated to the digital as well as the physical world.

"People with a restricted ability to read, to travel, to speak are often unnecessarily disadvantaged if not totally excluded from participation," said the APIG spokesman. "The virtual world can transform this if we let it. Today, the PC is a gateway to information, services, entertainment and social interaction - facilities which enable economic activity and enhance quality of life."