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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 November 2006, 17:19 GMT
Website targets disabled children
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Screen shot of the askability website
Text on the site is supported by Symbol language
An image-led website aimed at disabled children and young people has just launched in the UK.

Owned by the Children's Society, askability.org.uk uses a pictorial language called Symbol as well as text.

Young disabled people - especially those with learning difficulties - will be able to access news and information in a format that suits them.

The technology comes from Solutions Squared and Widgit Software, with finance from the Big Lottery Fund.

The idea for askability came from the Children's Society project in Solihull in the West Midlands.

In its current form the Web is heavily text-based - a medium that many people with learning difficulties find difficult to understand.

The Children's Society says that the majority of children use the internet for learning, information and entertainment - and those who have difficulty with text have, until now, been denied this opportunity.

"Askability offers disabled children the chance to enjoy their own website," said Maureen Murray from the Children's Society in Solihull.

"I hope they find it fun, user-friendly and informative - it's obviously a massive development for children with special needs."

Screen shot of the askability website
The navigation buttons have sounds to indicate their function

The website covers local and national news, sport, music and film.

Visitors are encouraged to interact by providing their own stories, jokes and feedback.

Any content created is automatically converted to Symbol.

"Working with Widget Software to create a web-based 'Symboliser' was a step into a new sphere of technology," said Solutions Squared director, Angela Gallacher.

And the company says it now has a system that can convert any website into Symbol.

The site - which took 18 months to develop - has two part-time employees. One of them - a young disabled man - attended the Children's Society Project in Solihull and went on to get a degree in computer science.

The Society said that young people felt isolated from mainstream news and found that television and newspapers were not accessible to them.

Among those present at the launch in Solihull was Jamil Dhillon who starred as a disabled boy with no speech in the BBC sitcom, All About Me.

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