Administration will review Section 508 compliance

Executive branch agencies will soon undergo a mandatory survey of their IT accessibility to 54 million disabled Americans.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division is in charge of the survey, but the General Services Administration will administer it, said Lesley A. Field, a policy analyst in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Field spoke last month at the second annual Congressional Web Accessibility Day sponsored by the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 requires a survey every two years, Field said. The date for starting the survey has not yet been set, however.

Web sites have such frequent changes that accessibility should be an integral part of site design rather than a periodic tweak, said Ali Qureshi, Web systems branch manager for House Information Resources.

'You can be compliant today but maybe not tomorrow,' Qureshi said.

Since last June, Qureshi's office has handled more than 130 requests for design, redesign or accessibility checking of congressional sites, he said.

At the start of the 108th Congress in January, House Information Resources provided all new House members with a basic one-page, accessible Web site as a starting point.

Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.), co-chairman of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, praised the congressional Office of Compliance and House Information Resources for helping Capitol Hill webmasters improve accessibility.

Alma Candelaria, House deputy executive director of the Compliance Office, said she hopes Congress soon will pass a law extending Section 508 regulations to the legislative branch.

Agency and congressional webmasters find it useful to share their best practices, said Terry Weaver, director of the General Services Administration's Center for IT Accommodation.

Make it easy to use

Kathy Goldschmidt, technology services director for the Congressional Management Foundation, gave five tips for improving site accessibility without adding layers of technology:
  • Describe all images. 'Alternative text should be detailed enough to convey meaning and concise enough not to bog users down,' Goldschmidt said.

  • Make all links easy to understand out of context. Avoid frequent use of 'Click here.'

  • Make it possible to skip repetitive lists of links.

  • Remove any blinking, moving or flashing elements, because they can cause seizures in epileptics or distract people with certain cognitive disabilities.

  • Add links to download sites on pages that require plug-ins.

'Unfortunately, ensuring accessibility is not usually a consideration in the design process,' Goldschmidt said.

Goldschmidt, who co-authored the Congress Online Project's most recent study of House and Senate Web sites [GCN, March 10, Page 8], said her group would test for accessibility in future surveys

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