October 18, 2007 By News Report
Web teams from more than two dozen Austin, Texas, companies converged for a voluntary day of competition October 13th to build new Web sites or improve existing ones for non-profit organizations whose clientele includes those with disabilities. The 10th Annual Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR-Austin) is part of a nationwide initiative to make the Internet accessible for those with disabilities as a tool for gaining knowledge, independence and exploring job opportunities.
Web sites can be made more user-friendly to the blind, for example, by including descriptive tags embedded in images, having Google-friendly audio transcripts and subtitles for Internet videos, and making sure forms can be located easily.
The competition featured top notch Web teams from a wide cross-section of top Austin companies. This included a number that specialize in Web design such as the Think Tank and Vesper Web Design to large corporations, government, education and industry including Dell, the University of Texas, Austin Energy and Texas Parks and Wildlife. Since 1997, in Austin alone, this competition has produced more than 300 accessible Web sites for non-profits that include a wide range of community groups, schools and assistance programs.
"This is such an important and worthwhile effort," said Andres Carvallo, Austin Energy Chief Information Officer and Chair of AIR-Austin 2007. "It is about inclusiveness. The work of these Web teams will provide opportunity and increase the capability of those with disabilities to be productive and be a part of society."
For the next two weeks the sites created during this year's competition will be judged on 36 criteria that judge ease of use of the sites, best practices in Web design as well as design features that ensure that the sites are easily accessible for people with visual, auditory or cognitive impairments; often called "barrier-free IT." Winners of the competition for the "Most Accessible Web Site" will be announced at an Awards Ceremony October 30, 2007 at The Holiday Inn on Town Lake.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.