U.Va. Aims to Improve Accessibility of Web Site

The University of Virginia plans to install software that can convert its 3.5 million Web pages into a format optimized for users with disabilities.

Nancy Tramontin, the university’s director of webmaster services, said U.Va. has signed a site license agreement for UsableNet Inc.’s Lift Assistive software.

The school has used the New York-based vendor’s software on a more limited basis since 2004 and currently serves 3,000 to 4,000 visitors per month with it.

The $37,000 licensing agreement, signed about two months ago, allows any of U.Va.’s divisions, departments or schools to add Lift Assistive-powered text-only versions of Web pages, Tramontin said. The annual site license can be extended for $15,000 per year starting in 2007, the university said.

The software creates text versions of Web pages that can be read aloud by screen readers for people who are blind, Tramontin said.

“We’ve had this software on most of the university’s main pages, but it’s now going to be on every University of Virginia Web page,” she said. The school hopes to be using the software across the entire Web site by year’s end, she added.

In addition to benefitting people with disabilities, the text-only pages can be viewed on handheld devices and cell phones, Tramontin noted.

According to the school, visitors can customize the text-only Web pages by setting preferences for text size and color.

The Lift Assistive software will be deployed on other Web resources, including the university’s Web mail system, online course catalog and class registration system, and the MyUVA portal.

Well-Organized Pages

Angie Matney, a first-year U.Va. law student who is blind, said the software should make it easier to access pages using a program called Jaws for Windows, from Freedom Scientific in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“Jaws essentially converts the information on a Web page into speech or Braille output,” Matney said. “The Lift program simplifies what’s on the screen before it is sent to Jaws.”

Matney said the Lift Assistive software provides a less cluttered version of the law school’s Web sites.

“It was very well organized,” she said. “A lot of Web sites will offer an alternate Web site in text-only form, but I tend to steer clear of those because I’ve found that they are not updated frequently.

“What I really like about the [Lift Assistive] software,” said Matney, “is that it allows for the dynamic, real-time creation of that alternate page.”

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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