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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 11:28 GMT
Olympic website targets disabled
Screen grab from Athens Olympics website
Alt tags are key for disabled users of the web
test hello test
By Daniel Howden in Athens
Athens is claiming an Olympic first this week as organisers for the 2004 Games unveil what they say is the first website in the Olympic family to meet international standards for disabled access.

It is the right thing to do... this has not been a legal issue for us

Dimitris Paneras, Athens 2004
The main web presence for the next Olympics has undergone a period of intense re-engineering since launching last year, in order to make it accessible to the largest possible audience.

"Everything you fix opens up new audiences, if you do it right it's open to more browsers to get the information they want," said Athens 2004 head of interactive Dimitris Paneras.

While most people online rely on either Microsoft or Netscape software to navigate, there are more than 25 alternative browsers for people with hearing, visual, physical or cognitive impairment.

Sydney sued

Using a wide range of alternative approaches to the traditional point and click interface, such as brail screens and synthetic speech, these browsers can make the web accessible to all.

"Clarity, ease of use and intuitive navigation - if you build with these aims in mind it makes the site more fun and more usable for everyone," added Mr Paneras.

The power of the Web is in its universality

Tim Berners-Lee
The key task in making sites accessible is providing alternative text labels for all visual material. Menus with only visual icons are a stumbling block that can be overcome using "alt tags" that decipher all the options for the blind or partially sighted.

The importance of Web accessibility was highlighted in court to the Olympic movement two years ago after a law suit was successfully brought against Sydney organisers (SOCOG) for their site

A private citizen succeeded in winning $20,000 (Aus) in damages, on 6 November, 2001, after a ruling that the Olympics portal caused "unjustifiable hardship" in failing to meet accessibility standards.

Salt Lake criticism

Sydney's Olympic Web site became the hottest destination on the internet for the duration of the Games and Athens is expecting similar record traffic on their pages in two years' time.

At 2004 we don't intend to exclude applications based on visual media, but we do want... to offer alternatives as well

Dimitris Paneras
However, the Greeks insist that pursuit of the biggest audience and not legal threats have underpinned their efforts to comply with guidelines.

"It is the right thing to do, the law differs from country to country and this has not been a legal issue for us," insisted Mr Paneras.

Salt Lake City Winter Games organisers also attracted strong criticism for their failure to meet the basic accessibility standards set by Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C).

Impressive features on such as Flash animated live tracking of events, meant a rich experience for most visitors but left out others accessing the site through alternative browsers.

Pavement problems

"At 2004 we don't intend to exclude applications based on visual media. But we do want to find ways such as text commentaries and audio to offer alternatives as well," explained Mr Paneras.

Nikaia Olympic hall under construction
Wheelchair access will be easier at new venues
World wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, a W3C director, has said: "The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect."

But disabled spectators who make the trip to the Athens Games in 2004 are likely to find their actual experience fails to match the smoothness of their virtual visit.

The overcrowded Greek capital presents a formidable array of obstacles to the disabled many of which will have to be overcome if the Athens Paralympics that will follow the main summer Games is to be a success.

The largest ever contingent of Paralympians is expected and public transport, chaotic pavements and ageing venues will need a major overhaul to cope.

See also:

16 Feb 01 | Europe
Athens told to speed up
19 Feb 02 | Europe
Athens losing billboard forest
04 Jul 01 | Olympic Votes
Greeks must go spiritual
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