UK firms encouraged to make the Web speak

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

In the United Kingdom, online retailers are being asked by IMRG, their leading industry body, to apply accessibility technologies to their sites. Although the main reason given is a business one (the sales to potential customers who may have access issues is estimated at £4b p.a. by IMRG's James Roper), there are also legal obligations (regarding the Disability Discrimination Act), and of course moral considerations to be mindful of, they suggest.

The move is catalyzed by a new web-based technology which makes it possible for online shops to provide text-to-speech functionality to the vast majority of visitors, without users needing to buy or install any special software. Thus taking the financial onus off the user and putting it on the shops to enable those with reading barriers to access their online services.

While the system is in its early days, retail giants such as, Tesco, are already backing the move, making wide-spread adoption more likely. If this is the case, blind users, as well as many users with other reading difficulties, such as dyslexia and those who speak English as a second language, may well stand to gain a new degree of freedom on the Web.