Here's how to honor the spirit of 508

John McCormick

By the June deadline, a lot of agency Web sites could be in violation of the spirit and probably the letter of Section 508 compliance rules.

Yes, compliance eats up money and time that are needed elsewhere, but I remember when the other President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act way back in 1990. That was a very long time ago in computer terms.

Why don't agencies already have compliant computer resources? Didn't managers know about ADA when they were acquiring systems over the last decade?

I visit government Web sites daily and find the same design flaws again and again. I'm not complaining about frames or animation, nor about the basic requirement that buttons have meaningful tags readable by speech-enabled browsers. Government webmasters are doing a great job in these complex areas by eschewing fancy features.

I'm not even complaining about the accessibility problems caused by audio tags and hard-to-decipher 'Click here' buttons. Such problems aren't readily apparent unless you've tried to navigate using a braille keyboard.

Please don't try to convey important information only with images. Don't embed buttons that don't describe what they do'try holding your cursor over a button to see what it really 'says.'

Don't use pull-down menus for navigation. It's difficult even for a sighted person with good motor control to click on embedded buttons that pop up a half-dozen more buttons whenever the cursor hovers nearby.

Newspapers and books are almost always printed with black ink on white paper because it gives the highest contrast. Even color-blind users can generally read black text on a white background.

The Hypertext Markup Language code for the page at www.nipc.gov/cybernotes/cybernotes.htm specifies a light blue GIF. But it looks dark on my screen, and there is very poor contrast with the thin black font.

The 508 fix is simple: Large, bold fonts and high contrast for every page element. Check out one of my sites, www.enabledcomputer.com, to see what high contrast looks like.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at [email protected].


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