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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 January, 2004, 01:47 GMT
Web opens up for learning disabled
By Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter

New software that will make websites accessible to people with learning difficulties will go on sale later this year.

Part of the BBCi  website translated using Communicate Webwise
The software can translate websites using the Rebus symbol system
The system, called Communicate Webwise, automatically turns information on pages into symbols or plain text.

The developer, Widgit Software, says it can process most web pages, except those containing complicated java or flash components.

Webwise uses Widgit's own Rebus symbol system, but can be made to work with other similar systems.

Complex web

First developed in the 1960s in the USA, Rebus symbols is a support system for language development for people who have moderate or severe learning difficulties.

Widgit, which has developed the system for computer software, says the complexity of many sites can be off-putting to people with learning disabilities.

This complexity is stripped out by Webwise because it presents information as either symbols, plain text in any font size, or spoken words.

Links are all given the same distinctive colour to help with navigation.

Some of the other gadgets and technologies on show at the Assistive Technologies event.

"It's aimed at people who would otherwise not be able to access the internet because they can't understand the text," says education consultant Chris Hopkins, who works closely with Widgit.

"Because the organisation of the page that they're looking at is so complicated, they [often] can't find what they want."

Webwise helps people with learning difficulties in two ways.

Non-readers can access information using only symbols, while for those with some text knowledge, the symbols act as a reminder for the words that are not immediately recognised.

Teachers and others supporting people with learning disabilities will be able to surf the web in the usual way, and then display the desired page in text or symbols with the option of removing unnecessary detail.

The software is on show in London at the Special Needs Fringe, an exhibition of assistive technology for use in education.

It is expected to cost around 70 when it hits the shelves.

Chris Hopkins, education consultant
"It takes any webpage and translates it into symbols or text mode"

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