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Travel sites agree to changes for the blind

Priceline.com, Ramada.com to make navigation easier as part of settlement with New York attorney general.

Priceline.com and Ramada.com have agreed to make their Web pages easier to navigate for the blind and visually impaired as part of a settlement with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

The settlement, announced Friday, is designed to bring the sites into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that private Web sites be accessible to blind and visually impaired Internet users, according to Spitzer.

The companies will ensure that their sites accommodate assistive technologies, such as screen reader software, which converts Web page text into speech, they said. They've also agreed to clearly label graphics and images and comply with a range of other accessibility standards outlined by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an Internet standards body.

The W3C introduced its accessibility guidelines in 2002. The guidelines set standards for designing browsers, multimedia players and Web pages with disabled users in mind.

Cendant, which own Ramada.com, and Priceline will pay the state of New York for the cost of its investigation--$40,000 and $37,500, respectively, Spitzer's office said.

Advocates for the blind applauded the news.

"As the Internet continues to become an increasingly important tool for business, commerce and leisure activities, it is imperative that all companies ensure their Web sites are accessible for all users--including people who are blind or have low vision," Carl Augusto, CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, said in a statement.

The Americans With Disabilities Act has spurred several lawsuits related to Internet accessibility. In 2000, the National Federation for the Blind sued the state of Connecticut for linking to inaccessible online tax filing services on the state's internal revenue site. The suit led Intuit, H&R Block and several others to adjust their sites for the visually impaired.

The same year, America Online--now a division of Time Warner--settled a similar suit related to its Internet browsing software.