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The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

StepForth, (working quietly behind the scenes) is proud to be a part of the team that is introducing the world’s first accessible search engine for people with disabilities, YouSearched.Com. The search tool was developed by UK based philanthropist and entrepreneur Khalid Karrar, with technical assistance provided by StepForth CEO, Ross Dunn.

Developing an accessible search engine means ensuring that anyone using screen readers or refreshable braille devices will be able to fully operate YouSearched.Com, as will disabled users who do not use pointing devices. The introduction of an accessible search engine opens the Internet to a growing segment of our society whose use of the web has been generally limited by non-accessible search tools. YouSearched.Com also benefits Internet users with older computers and those in developing countries who tend to use text-only browsers in a bid to save bandwidth costs.

YouSearched.Com is both a search engine and a directory with topic categories ranging from Art to Travel & Transport listed below the keyword text-box. Each directory category has a large 150×150 pastel icon above 18pt. descriptive text. Each category in the directory has several sub-categories listed, allowing searchers to drill down from the very general to the very specific information sites. Each link from YouSearched opens in a new window ensuring that users do not lose their initial search results as they move from one site to another.

The site layout has been designed to use oversized images with bright pastel colours and extra large font for people who have difficulty viewing pictures or making out traditionally smaller sized fonts. Visitors using a screen-reader will have the text on their monitor read to them with an approximation of the location where various links can be found on the page. Visitors using a braille device will have the contents of the site printed for them in braille. Visitors who have less severe visual impairments should be able to read the oversized font and make out changes in colour and texture of the large image icons. Even the keyword text-box is larger than normal with 24pt, bolded font.

Populating an accessible search engine can be more difficult than actually creating one. Results are currently purchased from the UK based paid-placement search tool E-Spotting, however most websites are not designed to be accessible. Until the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) mandates accessibility as a validation requirement, site developers and designers may not be aware of the positive impact of accessible design techniques.

According to StepForth CEO Ross Dunn, “This experience has been an eye-opener for me. Before this project began I only had an inkling of what accessibility meant. Now, however, I can see the importance of accessible web design and I plan on not only implementing it on StepForth’s network of sites but to recommend it to all our clients. It looks like our accessibility expert at Rose Rock Design, Lee Roberts, will be getting a lot of work in the future!”

YouSearched.Com has been in beta testing for about two months and has received endorsements from the Royal National Institute for the Blind. By meeting or exceeding accessibility standards as set out by the W3C, Watchfire’s Bobby Guidelines, and the US Federal Government (section 508 guidelines), the development team at YouSearched.Com has created an extremely useful search tool that may help bring higher standards to web development in the future and truly make the web an accessible environment for everyone.

This Web Marketing article was written by Jim Hedger on 4/8/2005

Jim Hedger is a writer, speaker and search engine marketing expert based in Victoria BC. Jim writes and edits full-time for StepForth and is also an editor for the Internet Search Engine Database. He has worked as an SEO for over 5 years and welcomes the opportunity to share his experience through interviews, articles and speaking engagements. He can be reached at