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The Belgian BlindSurfer project

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Jeroen BALDEWIJNS(1) and Philippe VAN BASTELAER(2)

(1)Licht en Liefde. blindsurfer@pandora.be   or : technisch.advies@blindenzorglichtenliefde.be
(2) ONA(Oeuvre Nationale des Aveugles)
. pvb@info.fundp.ac.be


The Belgian BlindSurfer project

BlindSurfer is an accessibility label that provides to the visually impaired person who visits a Website an indication about the site accessibility. BlindSurfer was created in the year 2000. The project has received the support of many public organizations in Belgium and is the fruit of a cooperation between a private person, Mr Rudy Canters and two Belgian associations namely "Blindenzorg Licht en Liefde" and, since June 2002, ONA (Oeuvre Nationale des Aveugles).

Rudi Canters, the instigator of the BlindSurfer project, passed away on April 14; this talk is dedicated to his memory.

BlindSurfer actions

The BlindSurfer action began in the year 2000 due to an initiative of the Belgian Blindenzorg Licht en Liefde association. This text presents a survey of the various actions, which have been and are connected to the BlindSurfer initiative.

Starting from the idea of encouraging Websites accessibility in Flanders, it seemed evident that this initiative would perfectly fit within the policy of Equal Opportunities, promoted by Mrs Mieke Vogels, Flemish Minister for Welfare, Health, Equal Opportunities and Development Cooperation. Very rapidly, we received support from this ministry. In the scope of this project, we started many actions, namely: Stimulated by the Flemish one-day seminar, the province of Eastern Flanders considered that it would be fair to screen all the municipality sites in the province. In cooperation with the province, we started a project based on the following actions: After the screening process of the Eastern Flanders sites, the province of Western Flanders became also convinced of the concept interest. Within a project very similar to the Eastern Flanders, the province proposed the following actions: At the conclusion of the Western Flanders project, a similar action has been undertaken with the Flemish Brabant province. This is a provincial project whose aim is to evaluate all the municipal sites in the province.

In cooperation with the involved web design bureaux and with ONA (Oeuvre Nationale des Aveugles), a similar project has been prepared with the aim of certifying the accessibility of the belgian Federal portal site which is now in the process of receiving the label. Many belgian federal administrations have now received the label. Some others will be evaluated in the coming months. The same is done with sites from the Capital region of Brussels.

Furthermore, ONA with the strong support of the walloon government will now start a systematic evaluation action for the public administrations of the region of Wallonia.

The BlindSurfer label

Blindsurfer is a quality label that provides a visually impaired person with the certainty that a Website is easily accessible for him (or her). If an Internet user with sight problem finds the BlindSurfer logo on the site homepage, he (or she) knows that the site will not offer any particular reading difficulty. Web sites that, after thorough screening, appear to meet the accessibility directives are allowed to display the label on their homepage.
The Blindsurfer label is built up out of two indissociable elements: Web sites to which the Blindsurfer label has been granted are listed in the BlindSurfer portal page that form in a sense a gate to an "accessible part" of the Net.
The label has been created by Mr Rudi Canters and practically implemented by Blindenzorg Licht en Liefde. The blind Internaut is symbolized by a surfboard combined with a white stick that serves as a mast.

BlindSurfer accessibility screening process

A candidate Website sends its screening application to the BlindSurfer evaluation team via a special screening application form. The site URL is then transmitted to at least two experts, a blind person and a person with good vision who will screen the site. The site is then examined on the basis of a sixteen-point checklist in order to determine if it meets the accessibility conditions. This list is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) that is part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These directives are acknowledged as a world standard and have been accepted by many public authorities.
The evaluation results are then collected and a screening protocol is written. This protocol contains, if necessary, a certain number of explanatory comments in order to facilitate finding solutions for possible remaining accessibility problems.
If the screening is positive, the site owner is awarded the BlindSurfer label. If the site is not perfectly accessible, the BlindSurfer team is ready to provide any available information and suggestions for realizing the needed adaptation works.
Websites that receive the BlindSurfer label are asked to respect the usage conditions of the label of which we remind the most important ones: As the label owner, BlindSurfer reserves itself the right to withdraw the label from a site that, owing to a transformation, would not meet the accessibility directives any more. This is why checks are performed from time to time.

Present situation

About 250 public sites and 50 private sites have been screened in three years; 75 BlindSurfer labels have been awarded.

Paris, April 2003

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