Web site wins top prize for Meldreth

Meldreth Manor School in Royston, Hertfordshire, has won #163;10,000 in the special needs section of Microsoft's Road Ahead awards. Meldreth's award was for its innovative Web site, designed for people with disabilities. Meldreth, which is run by the charity Scope, has 95 students, aged 9 to 19, with severe or profound learning disabilities. Many also have severely impaired vision or hearing, or other conditions such as epilepsy.

"There's not enough thought given to people with disabilities," says Richard Walter, the school's IT co-ordinator. At Meldreth's Web site, the emphasis is on clarity and simplicity of access. The site has been optimised for any Web browser and the pages have a consistent layout; arrows are used to help users scroll down the page; a mouse pointer can be left in a single position for turning pages; no frames (pages within pages) are used; and the pages can be used with a screen reader (it can read out text) or magnifier.

The site includes a photograph of each pupil, an interactive adventure trail, and sections on music, drama, cookery and outdoor adventures at the school. "Communication is the bedrock of what we do," says Richard Walter, "and if you can't communicate with other people or the environment you are not effective. We want our students to be effective human beings. "

Meldreth is a residential school, and many students use e-mail to keep in touch with family and friends. "The immediacy of e-mail is important for a lot of pupils#201;the fact that you send a message to someone across the world and get a reply the next morning," says Walter.

Getting the students to use e-mail was a gradual proces which began with them writing messages to other computers in the same room. Next, they sent e-mails along the school's internal phone network, and then used fax. E-mails are written with symbols and fed into a computer which converts them to text; the reverse process is used when an e-mail is received.

"The Internet has little sound, so some pages are converted into multimedia presentations to which we add sound or music," says Walter. Some Web pages are printed out, as students often prefer to see images on a page rather than on a screen.

Meldreth is considering using its award to install an ISDN digital phone line or leased line, to improve the speed at which the Internet can be accessed.

The other winners were:

Primary: St Michael's Church of England, Highgate, north London, General Election site (http:www. metafour.comsmsa)

Secondary: Ellon Academy, Aberdeen. Modern studies and art students from the fifth and sixth form's mock election site (http:www. rsc.co.uk.ellonac)

* Meldreth: http:www.rmplc.co.uk eduwebsitesmeldrethindex.html

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