Get access-friendly

Take a deep breath and relax. Section 508 compliance, at least for your agency's online services, is easier than you think.

| SPECIAL TO GCNTake a deep breath and relax. Section 508 compliance, at least for your agency's online services, is easier than you think.At its most basic, compliance means updating your electronic files. But what does full compliance mean? Will accessibility metrics stifle innovation? Can developers of niche accessibility products make peace with mainstream software providers that don't support every type of accessibility interface?These issues will become clearer over the next few months. Meanwhile, most agencies' immediate goal is to get moving toward basic accessibility.As most federal systems managers already know, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 requires agencies to make their electronic information, and the information systems themselves, accessible to disabled users. 508 affects everything from the height of office printers to the functionality of agency Web sites.'The greatest need right now is for webmasters to know this is an issue and to know about the tools,' said Bill LaPlant, a Census Bureau computer scientist.Census has been working on 508 accessibility for about two years, LaPlant said. That has meant hand-editing some files and running search-and-replace programs to insert text tags for graphics.Besides Web issues, amendments to the Federal Acquisition Regulation, published earlier this year in the Federal Register, set a deadline of June 21 after which disabled federal employees can sue if they cannot use the same data and electronic equipment as other employees. See . Some exceptions likely will be granted, however.On the commercial side, the FAR amendments effectively force vendors in the federal marketplace to meet disability guidelines or risk losing a chance at future contracts. That clock starts ticking on June 25.Meanwhile, an industry consortium that includes Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Motorola Inc. and other vendors is working with the General Services Administration to develop a 508-compliant product template.The template will be unveiled next month, said Microsoft's Section 508 coordinator, Laura Ruby ().Where to start if you haven't already? First, help the vision-impaired.Go to the home page of your Web site. Reduce your monitor's brightness and contrast settings by 60 percent or more. Can you still see all the text and graphics?If not, start by fixing your Web pages so that those with limited sight can use them. Adjust the background and text colors across the site to achieve greater contrast. Make fonts bigger. Post fewer and larger graphics. Make sure you use the Hypertext Markup Language's Alt attribute to describe the function of each graphic.To edit older documents used on the site, Microsoft FrontPage 2000 has tools for inserting Alt and other special tags.If the pages are dynamically generated, you may only have to adjust the templates and display rules. For older documents, several HTML editors have search-and-replace functions to insert specialized tags or change text across multiple pages.If your Web server runs ColdFusion from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco, you can edit the code with Dreamweaver UltraDev 4 Studio. It's available at .As you update, try to cram less information on the top-level pages and provide ways to click through for details and choices.Next, find out whether your own vision-impaired employees can access your applications and data through their screen readers. Can vision-impaired visitors to your Web site easily understand the information via their own screen readers?Start with internal client systems running Microsoft Windows 9x, Millennium Edition, NT or 2000. Screen reader programs available for these operating systems can send the text content on-screen to the computer sound card and speakers via a synthesized voice or to refreshable Braille displays.The JAWS, or job access with speech, application for Windows from Freedom Scientific Inc. of St. Petersburg, Fla., is one of the most popular screen readers. The same company offers its Magic app for screen magnification plus speech. See details about both at .While you're there, take a look at the streamlined JAWS product page. It's a good example of how many 508-compliant pages might look in the future.Another popular screen reader is Window-Eyes from GW Micro Inc. of Fort Wayne, Ind. Window-Eyes and an MS-DOS reader called Vocal-Eyes are available at .Alva Access Group Inc. of Oakland, Calif., also makes products to improve accessibility. For information about Alva's Unix screen readers and Braille interfaces, visit . And for information about its outSpoken screen reader for the Mac OS, visit .If your agency's internal legacy applications are accessible through a Web interface, a good part of your job is done. Browser-compatible screen readers effectively open up public access to databases, article archives and applications. Without legacy-to-Web access, you face more of a challenge.Your best investment might be to develop Web interfaces for older information systems rather than try to invent screen readers and other access methods for each of them.The next challenge is data presentation on the page.Frames are always a problem for disabled users. Even though some screen readers can analyze frames, the reading order is unclear. Listeners get confused, and navigation can be difficult. If you haven't yet moved from frames to dynamically generated pages, it is now time to do so.Another issue is the format of the information on pages. Data elements must be properly tagged. In the best case, that means following the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines set up by the World Wide Web Consortium. View the working document at .The rules are extensive. The level of detail about tagging and display, HTML, Extensible Markup Language, style sheets and the like extends beyond the scope of your immediate deadlines.Consider the guidelines a map for where the world is heading in the long term, not where you need to be next month.To make a quick assessment of how your site stacks up, try the Bobby tool created by the Center for Applied Special Technology of Peabody, Mass. You'll find it at .Avoid tables on your pages whenever possible. If tables must be used for multicolumn text, make sure you follow the standards for how the text should flow.Some government data has to appear in tabular format. The trick is to keep the tables as short as possible, so viewers don't drown in data before they can digest it. Headers that span multiple columns also are confusing and should be avoided.Census' LaPlant suggested conducting two tests. First, download the free Links text browser from to review the way your site will look to a screen reader.Second, find employees at your agency who already use assistive technology. Ask them to review your site.The final and greatest challenge is legacy data. Government sites have thousands of databases and documents that don't meet the 508 standards. Here are some quick fixes:If your agency builds tables and charts on the fly from real-time data, check out the PopChart D-link descriptive text tool from Corda Technologies Inc. of Lindon, Utah.The Corda tool inserts Alt descriptions as charts and graphs are built, making data accessible to screen readers. Details about PopChart appear at .Whether you are creating new files or cleaning up older ones, make the changes within the same markup tool that you use to create files.The most urgent deadline right now is to achieve basic compliance with 508.
A primer for online 508 compliance

BY SHAWN P. MCCARTHY













www.section508.gov/docs/Final99607A.htm


ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY AT WORK: USDA's Melvin Padgett, with guide dog Trevor, uses large-print screen readers such as SmartView CCTV from Pulse Data International.




see Interview, Page 16







Tools for older docs





www.coldfusion.com/products/coldfusion/productinformation/tools.cfm








USDA rehabilitation engineer Kathy Eng demonstrates voice recognition software from Lernout & Hauspie of Burlington, Mass.
www.hj.com



www.gwmicro.com

www.aagi.com/aagi/crossref03.htmlwww.aagi.com/aagi/osw09.asp








www.w3.org/TR/2001/WD-UAAG10-20010409



Long-term plans



www.cast.org/bobby


Using a low-vision monitor and a hearing station, Agriculture disability coordinator Pamela Steed tries out ZoomText Xtra, a magnification application and screen reader from Ai Squared of Manchester Center, Vt.




links.sourceforge.net











www.corda.com/press/d/prerelease.cfm





Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at smccarthy@lycos-inc.com.
X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.