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Innovative New Website For Students With Disabilit

Students with disabilities now have access to an innovative website at the University of Auckland.

The redeveloped site contains many features to help both disabled students at the University and the University staff teaching them. It not only outlines the services offered by the University's Disabilities Office but includes much practical information including maps showing routes around the University, a text-only version suitable for vision impaired users to convert to voice output and a continually updated notice-board with news and events of special interest to these students.

The site can be found at: http://www.disability.auckland.ac.nz/

Visitors to the site are greeted with a student signing welcome in New Zealand sign language. Text greetings are offered and information conveyed in English and five other languages.

For those considering enrolling at the University there are answers to frequently asked questions designed to allay concerns that they may not be able to embark on a tertiary education and outline the support they will receive at the University.

The site also does much to raise awareness, carrying information on a wide range of conditions and disabilities experienced by students.

Disabilities co-ordinators Terry O'Neill and Lynne Crabb believe the University has met the challenge of combining dynamic multimedia features and improved content while catering for users with a number of quite specific needs.

"We have always kept as our uppermost priority the need for the website to be easily used by people with a wide range of disabilities. During the redevelopment process several disabled students reviewed the site to give their opinion of its both the content and ease of use."

New features on the site include:

· A text-only version for vision impaired users that can be read using 'Jaws' software that converts text on screen to a voice output

· Simulations of visual conditions giving representations of several conditions so users can experience what it is like for those with visual disabilities

· A sign language page allowing users to input text that is converted to sign language images

· Dynamic maps giving both verbal and visual descriptions of various routes around the University. A magnifying glass allows users to examine detail of the map and there is also a simple map available in PDF format

· A notice-board of news and events important to these students can be found here. This is set up so it can be maintained on regular basis by non-technical staff from the Disabilities Services office

· A job vacancies notice-board listing part-time and casual work assisting disabled students available through the Disabilities Services office

The Disabilities Office is aware of 700 students with disabilities at the University, but Terry O'Neill and Lynne Crabb believe this is only a small proportion of students with disabilities at the University.

"We believe around 70% of disabled students at the University do not disclose their disability. We hope this site will help reassure them this is not so and encourage them to take advantage of the support services we offer," says Terry O'Neill.

There is also a comprehensive section for University staff teaching students with disabilities.

"Staff can find it difficult to attend training seminars for disability awareness so the web-site staff guide provides information on a wide range of disabilities and specific teaching strategies for these conditions," says Lynne Crabb.

A series of animated pictures add a light touch to the information.

The site uses a JavaScript 'side' menu and 'breadcrumbs' enabling users to find their way easily through the site.

Web developer Mark Graham says the site is one of the most comprehensive disabilities websites internationally, in both content, and multimedia technical features.

"We looked at many sites around the world as we were developing this and have found very few that match this in terms of content and technical features. We believe the University now has the best site for disabled students of all the Universitas 21 members.

"It complies with international standards for disabled users drawn up by website watchdog W3.org. Currently legislation is being introduced in the USA to ensure all Federal Government websites comply with these standards."

The University's Internet Development office is able to help other organisations audit their websites and develop features that will make them more accessible for disabled users.

Ends


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