The number of organisations within Ireland, both voluntary and government, which offer a service for people with learning disabilities and their families is often bewildering. When we extend this to the number of organisations offering information worldwide, things really start to get confusing. Fortunately the growth of the worldwide web has meant that a large majority of these organisations are now represented on the internet, and have become accessible to people from the comfort of their own homes and offices. The Federation of Voluntary Bodies (providing services to people with a learning disability) has recently launched a learning disability website which should help to ease the confusion. (www.fed-vol.com).
The stated aim of the site is to provide one central information resource and reference point which should be both current and accurate. In this it succeeds very well and fills a gap which has existed for some time. Indeed, it goes further and provides a resource which will be of international appeal, owing to its large number of web-links organised and indexed by categories, such as advocacy, syndromes, and government departments. Included are such quality sites as Inclusion International, The Family Village Website at the University of Wisconsin, and the National Association for the Mentally Handicapped of Ireland.
The complete beginner to the subject will find information on what is meant by learning disability/mental handicap, its prevalence in Ireland and a history of normalisation. The large number of voluntary bodies represented also means that comprehensive information and contact details are available on a wide range of subjects, from parenting to education provision, from leisure opportunities to respite care, and from occupational training to research project grants. There is also an abundance of more general information of interest to everyone in the field, with details on upcoming events in the UK and Ireland, exchange student opportunities, the Special Olympics in summer 1999, the consequences of the Freedom of Information Act as of 1 September 1999, and much more.
The design of the site is to be commended for its simplicity, being attractive and professional-looking without any distracting graphics and flashy gimmicks. Its user-friendly structure also means that it is very easy to find your way quickly to the information you are seeking. Unfortunately, however, no attempt has been made to make the site more accessible to people with a learning disability—for example, through the incorporation of any of the well-known symbol systems. It may be argued that the target audience consists of professionals and families of people with learning disabilities. Nevertheless the very content of the site itself calls for at least some part of the site to be presented in such a way that people with a learning disability can have access to it. This is one barrier to inclusion which could be easily overcome.
To return to a more positive note, however, many people will find this site a huge bonus in trying to find their way through the maze of organisations and services which they may need. It is, taken in its entirety, an immensely useful resource which has been presented in a very user-friendly manner. What is more, the email address for the Federation of Voluntary Bodies is on-line, and they are asking for more information or suggestions from anyone who is interested. So why not respond and contribute to the evolution of the site yourself?