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Geek day brings immediate access solutions

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Damon Rose Damon Rose | 17:00 UK time, Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Here's something for geeks, wannabe geeks and (crucially) for disabled people who aren't in the least bit geeky.

Scripting Enabled is a project that kicked off last weekend with a conference and 'hack day' at London Metropolitan University. The event was organised by Chris Heilmann - International Developer Evangelist for Yahoo.

There are many websites, services and tools on the web that are unnecessarily inaccessible to disabled people. But there are also a huge number of geeks out there with the will and ability to fix these problems.

Using available web tools, plus a bit of programming, it's possible to create brand new websites that give better access than the original. By way of example, Chris himself has created the much talked about Easy YouTube, a cut-down, clutter free and more intuitive version of the popular video sharing site. Heilmann created it for peple with learning difficulties but has since had feedback from blind people using screenreaders who appreciate the added accessibility benefits too.

Scripting Enabled encouraged the geek audience to use their hacking skills to create similar 'mash ups' of websites. Speakers across the day explained some of the problems faced by people with impaired motor function, sight loss, learning difficulties and dyslexia - and in some cases, all of them at once. And the next step was Saturday's 'hack day' where disabled peple directly informed the hackers about more specific problems ... and already some projects have got off the ground.

One blind user at the event said she had difficulty accessing the available books at Project Gutenberg - the online repositry of out-of-copyright books. Read Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and a bunch of other stuff all available free of charge in electronic text format.

Whaddya know, yesterday afternoon we received an email with a link to a newly created cut down version of the site. View it here: http://made-accessible.com/audiobooks/.

In the office yesterday we were wowing at the speed at which this happened. But that's how hack days work. So the next person who tells you that an accessible website will cost a fortune and take six months to develop ... well, you might just want to question it.

If you're interested in putting your problems to geeks, or you're a geek who wants to solve some problems worth solving ... keep an eye on Scripting Enabled. And maybe you might think about holding your own geek-meets-disabled event in your town or city?

[Updated] Check out rain Ashford's writeup of Scripting Enabled on the BBC Backstage Blog.

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