The digital world needs to be more accessible and there are many incentives to make this happen, according to La Trobe University associate professor Liddy Nevile, convener of the OzeWAI 2005 conference to be held in December.
The conference aims to bring technology professionals, content publishers, industry representatives and people with disabilities together to develop ways of making digital resources more widely accessible.
"We can not depend upon e-government, e-business, e-education, e-commerce or e-entertainment without being sure everyone is able to access the information and services once they have the right hardware, software and connections. This is currently not the case," Nevile said.
"Governments, businesses and educational systems are calling for better products to minimize the information divide, and this conference is about finding ways to do that," she said.
Nevile said accessibility is not just for people with disabilities, but to make technology generally available in more circumstances, for example a car driver who wants to use an Internet map.
"There is a good business case for making Web resources adaptable so they can be poured into big screens, phones, PDAs, given to agents for processing and also be available to screen readers, and touch screens," she said.
Nevile said there is a huge business case for accessibility, as the market "gap is everywhere".
"There is a large section of the community to be brought into the e-world so those who offer accessible education will have a bigger student body; those who work with accessible tools and accessible resources can employ people from a bigger pool of workers; those who have their materials accessible will find they have more re-usable materials and so will save money, and, like Fairfax, those who publish accessible materials will send only what their customers need and so save in transmission costs," she said.
Nevile said that Microsoft's recent realization that there would be 60 percent more Internet users if it were made more accessible has come too late as accessibility is driven now by open source.
"Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes open source and everyone's good ideas to make the Web accessible."
Nevile will be speaking at the conference about her work with International Organization for Standardization (ISO), IMS, and The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) on new standards for metadata so people and resources can be described in a standard way that will let people state their needs and have resources matched to them and working with the W3C/WAI working group on the new standards for Web Content authoring tools (ATAG 2.0).
"Personally, I would like those in charge of information at their organizations to realize that it is the info manager's job to manage resources with metadata (machine understandable information for the web), the info authors' job to make it well, the IT manager's job to make sure resources are managed by CMS that can swap components to match users' needs and devices, and that everyone can expect resources they can use.
Other speakers include Charles McCathie who is working for Opera in Norway on designing software for making the Web available on PDAs and phones. For more information on either presenting at or attending the conference, see: http://www.ozewai.org/index.html.