FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Surrey, BC – September 7, 2005 – UNESCO celebrates International Literacy Day on September 8th to recognize the efforts made to reduce illiteracy around the world. However, when there are 800 million illiterate adults, when two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women, and when over 100 million school-age children never attend school, there still remains much to be done.
In Canada alone, Statistics Canada estimates nearly half of the population have some difficulty with reading materials encountered in everyday life. Approximately 22 per cent of Canadians fall into the lowest level of literacy, and another 26 per cent can only read information that is simple, clearly laid out and in familiar contexts. Millions of Canadian adults still can’t read well enough to handle daily tasks.
With more and more information now available only online, the digital divide is widening for individuals with low literacy skills. Using the Internet for job searching, banking or accessing government information and forms is difficult, if not impossible. It typically means depending on someone else to assist with the task, if individuals admit they indeed require assistance.
The computer software application Browsealoud provides an innovative solution. Browsealoud reads aloud the actual content on the website, enabling individuals who have difficulty reading to understand website content independently for the first time. The highlighting of text as it is read aloud helps to develop recognition of new words and vocabulary. The application also represents a significant benefit to other users, since studies have shown that people remember only 10% of what they read, only 20% of what they hear, and remember 50% of what they both read and hear.
Specializing in web accessibility, Soaring Eagle Communications’ Principal Glenda Watson Hyatt says, “With the increasing need of creating websites that are accessible to people with disabilities, the needs of those individuals who have difficulty reading, for whatever reason, are often overlooked. Browsealoud offers a simple solution by allowing these individuals to simply listen as web content is read aloud to them. It means the web now opens up opportunities to them that didn’t exist before. It is actually quite exciting, quite liberating.”
Having a physical disability and speech impairment herself, Watson Hyatt appreciates how the Internet has created exciting new opportunities for her and others with disabilities. Now, the Internet is being opened to others who have been overlooked as being “disabled”. Browsealoud is intended for website users who have a learning or cognitive disability, a mild visual impairment, low literacy skills or who are ESL.
Watson Hyatt adds, “To speech enable a site can be done in a matter of minutes. No coding or programming is necessary. Sites can be enabled to read aloud in English or French, depending upon the language of the site.”
Literacy opens opportunities for individuals; much can be done to enhance those opportunities. As Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen says: “Literacy is freedom.”
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Press agent for Glenda Watson Hyatt