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AOL awards innovators

Cash prizes for community improvements

An internet cafe for the blind, website production training for history projects and a large-screen monitor with webcam for the disabled community are just some of the innovations awarded prizes at yesterday's AOL Innovation in the Community awards.

Set up by the ISP and charity Citizens Online to honour clever uses of technology, the awards saw 30 community groups receive prizes of £2,000 and a year's free subscription to AOL's services. Originally only 15 community groups were to receive awards but due to the unexpected rush of applications — close to 800 — AOL doubled the number of places.

"We were overwhelmed by the response to the awards — it just goes to show how important the internet is for so many community groups and charities across the UK," said Karen Thomas CEO at AOL.

The Berkshire Blind Society (BBS) received one of the awards for its idea of an internet cafe for the blind. The cyberslurping establishment will be set up at the charity's premises in Berkshire and will be run by local volunteers. The prize money will also be used to purchase audio software and broadband internet access. The premise behind the cafe is to allow people with sight difficulties to come along and test out specialised software before buying it.

"Most public access points are not set up for the needs of the visually impaired. This awards means we can open a cafe with specialist equipment and software to help our members really get the most out of being online," said Richard Cockran of the BBS.

The Guy Fox history project was awarded cash for development of its local history publications, which are targeted at youngsters between nine and 13. The money will be used to fund a website production course for one staff member to allow them to develop the skills needed to set up websites with local children, using songs and animation to tell historical facts.

Working with Words, a charity which helps people with learning disabilities access the internet, was also granted an award. The group plans to use the money to buy a large-screen monitor, speakers and a webcam for its offices to help make equipment more accessible to people with disabilities.

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