The redevelopment of Microsoft's SharePoint development platform has opened the doors to a career in web building for the UK's two million people with sight loss.
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This was the result of a project to rebuild the website for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the country's leading charity for blind and partially-sighted people. The project also included an intranet, an extranet and an e-commerce facility.
Working with technology experts at Telerik, Content and Code redeveloped and redesigned much of Microsoft's SharePoint system to allow RNIB's staff, including blind web developers and content managers, to use SharePoint to add and format content on the website.
The RNIB's senior web access consultant, Bim Egan, who registered as blind in 1986, said people who are using access technologies such as screen readers are translating structure and text into either speech output or Braille. This capability has to be in the code when they need it, she said.
"A good example is e-commerce sites where a lot of prices change," she said. "Visually they'll put a nice bold blue price and underneath a small red price that's been crossed through. When that comes through a screen reader or Braille, it's just two different prices. You don't know which is the old one, which the new one."
Content and code solutions architect Martin Hatch said: "It certainly makes you want to do a better job, watching what difficulties the blind face, just to make their lives a little bit easier."
The RNIB offers information, support and advice to vision-impaired people. Among its many services, RNIB offers accessibility consultancy and training, and has pioneered accreditation for websites that are accessible to blind and partially sighted users.
The RNIB aims to help society become more inclusive and remove barriers to information for people with poor sight. Part of this means improving services for customers and staff via their website and intranet.
Moreover, its website is a graphic example of how blind and partially-sighted people need not be excluded from the web, or its development. Part of the system included the development of a new text editor, suitable for the blind.
The new intranet is called iSite and features a more powerful search engine that can find information no matter what document library or database it is stored in.
The SharePoint server provides RNIB with a central hub for communication and knowledge sharing that supports all staff, sighted and non-sighted, in their daily work. They can now use different SharePoint features, including shared documents, lists, forums and metadata to be more productive.
Among the new features are discussion forums where users can share information and opinions and a corporate directory fed directly from the HR system. It also has the capacity to display very small or very large resolution screens, with expanded and contracted views to help users see content on screen.
A more flexible home page helps content managers quickly publish daily news headlines in pre-defined page styles and layouts.