Since the discourse over creating accessible Web pages began, the standards organizations that helped inform the new Federal rules have stressed the separation of design and content. If the Internet is to reach its full potential, content will need to be authored so that it can be rendered by a broad array of devices: browsers, assistive technologies, PDAs, and devices that have yet to be imagined. Only by separating content from design will this be possible. By following the rules in Section 508, you will be doing more than providing access for those with disabilities; you will be creating content that is available to all users, no matter what devices are used to read it.
Web sites should be designed to ensure that everyone, including users who have difficulty seeing, hearing, and making precise movements, can use them. Generally, this means ensuring that Web sites facilitate the use of common assistive technologies. All United States Federal Government Web sites must comply with the Section 508 Federal Accessibility Standards.
With the passage of Section 508 and the efforts of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), interest in Web site accessibility continues to increase. Web designers and Web content developers are finding that knowledge in Web accessibility is becoming essential to be marketable to government contracts and private industry since accessibility is becoming a best practice, and in some cases a legal requirement, in Web development. This article is written for those who already have a general knowledge about the reasons for, and the techniques of, designing accessible Web sites. In this article, I will share the steps that I have taken to work toward transforming a Web site that I manage to one that is accessible according to the W3C recommendations.
The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) is issuing final accessibility standards for electronic and information technology covered by section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. Section 508 requires the Access Board to publish standards setting forth a definition of electronic and information technology and the technical and functional performance criteria necessary for such technology to comply with section 508. Section 508 requires that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, they shall ensure that the electronic and information technology allows Federal employees with disabilities to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of information and data by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.
It’s taken awhile, but webmasters are starting to get the hang of designing Web sites that work for most users. But don’t rest yet: webmasters will soon need to add a completely new set of Web design skills. Increasingly, Web sites will have to accommodate disabled users. Disabled users? That’s right. Even people with no sight at all can “hear” the Web, through special browsers that read out the code on Web pages. New US regulations require that all Federal sites (and the sites of Federal contractors) work in this format. Other countries are adopting similar rules, and non-government sites are increasingly coming under pressure from users to offer options for the disabled.
A compelling reason to make your Intranet accessible to people with disabilities is because itï¿s the law. Section 508 of the United Statesï¿ Rehabilitation Act of 1972 requires that Federal agenciesï¿ electronic and information technology (EIT) be accessible to people with disabilities (vision, hearing, mobility) if the EIT is procured on or after June 21, 2001. If you develop hardware, software, Internet, or Intranet solutions for the U.S. Government, either as an employee of the U.S. Government or as a service or product provider, the procurement date is a critical factor in determining functional requirements of your Intranet.
The article underscores one of the key weaknesses in Section 508 today: the lack of self-regulation and commitment to Section 508 by federal agencies. Since Section 508 was released in June 2001, the primary enforcement focus has been on industry's role and responsibility. The pervasive thinking was that compliance could be better achieved by ensuring that industry designed, developed, and delivered accessible electronic and information technology for agency procurement. And there seems to be merit to this way of thinking. But if federal contracting and procurement officers do not include the 508 requirements as part of their procurement request documentation, industry has no motivation to invest money and resources required to enhance their products for accessibility.
The following standards are excerpted from Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, §1194.22. Everything in the left hand column is a direct quote from Section 508. The other two columns are only meant to serve as helpful guidelines to comply with Section 508.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, as amended in 1998, requires federal departments and agencies, including the United States Postal Service, to comply with accessibility requirements when procuring, developing, using or maintaining electronic and information technology (E&IT), unless doing so causes an undue burden (significant difficulty or expense). E&IT with accessibility requirements pertinent to people with hearing disabilities include: telephones; televisions; videotapes and DVDs; multimedia web sites; interactive voice response systems, and information kiosks. Where steps and physical barriers kept people with physical disabilities out of the workforce and out of government buildings three decades ago, videos and web pages without captioning; telephones without amplification; interactive voice response systems that do not support TTY signals; phone configurations that do not support VCO (voice carry over); and phone systems with no TTY jacks are examples of barriers today. Congress identified the federal government as the proper place to begin tackling these problems. Through the Section 508 amendment, the federal government has been given the responsibility to set an example for the rest of the country by being a model employer and providing exemplary service to its customers with disabilities by showing that access can be achieved in a reasonable way and that information technology access will benefit all people. The Section 508 statute directed the U.S. Access Board to develop access standards for this technology. The process began with a report presented to the board by an advisory committee it convened and ended with the 508 Standards being incorporated in their entirety into the federal procurement regulations.
Web design at Federal departments and agencies just got orders of magnitude more complex. In 1998, President Clinton signed into law Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The law, aimed at making government technology accessible to 120,000 disabled federal employees and 50 million other disabled Americans, went into effect June 21, 2001. Unlike the OSHA Ergonomic Program that was universally reviled by the Republican Administration and was immediately repealed upon President Bush taking office, Section 508 has been widely endorsed by President Bush and his Cabinet. This rule is here to stay. Commended by disability groups throughout the nation, Section 508 is an important step in making technology accessible to everyone. With hundreds of government agencies rethinking their technology investments, the effects of Section 508 will be felt throughout the public and private sectors. Section 508 marks the beginning of a new era in technology development. For the first time disabled employees and users of government-sponsored technology are in the driver's seat. And the controls they need are no small matter.
Section 508 requires that Federal agencies' electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. The Center for Information Technology Accommodation (CITA), in the U.S. General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy, has been charged with the task of educating Federal employees and building the infrastructure necessary to support Section 508 implementation. Using this web site, Federal employees and the public can access resources for understanding and implementing the requirements of Section 508.
'Accessible' is a higher standard than 'Section 508-compliant.' Identifying the design principles for accessible web page design, and which of those principles are required under Section 508, is a useful approach to the issue for any organization that must comply with the Section 508 standards. The legislation has no standards for determining whether your web site complies with Section 508. Possible processes include: evaluating the site using a text-to-speech application; evaluating the site using validation software; and usability testing.
The legislation referred to as "Section 508" is actually an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The amendment was signed into law by President Clinton on August 7, 1998. Section 508 requires that electronic and information technology that is developed by or purchased by the Federal Agencies be accessible by people with disabilities.
Explains how to meet each Section 508 web design standard. The basic accessibility rules for Web sites were developed by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) and are contained in Section 22 of the regulations which implement Section 508.
This scenario–based progression targets designers and developers who are interested in learning about assessment for web page design for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It introduces the topic by providing a background on web page design for individuals with special needs (varying physical and sensory abilities). Then, it presents basic concepts for developing accessible web pages, raises awareness of the need to comply with the ADA, Section 508, and provides resources for further investigation. Emphasis will be given to interactive discussion that centers on assessment questions to consider for concurrent, accessible and user–centered design approaches for web pages.