Agencies tap 508 site-fixing software

Agencies tap 508 site-fixing software

BY DIPKA BHAMBHANI | GCN STAFF

The Navy and the Transportation Department this month enlisted software from Crunchy Technologies Inc. of Arlington, Va., to retrofit their Web sites and make them accessible to disabled users.

PageScreamer 2.0, the company's accessibility software, verifies and corrects Web content for ease of use.

Obey the law

'It's the law,' said Lt. Jane Alexander, spokeswoman for the Navy's chief information officer. 'We have to comply.'

The Navy signed a $6 million blanket purchasing agreement under which Defense Department agencies can receive at least a 15 percent discount. But the Navy is making PageScreamer use optional.

'No one is being told that they have to use it,' Alexander said, but the software is available and affordable. 'We're making very good progress, and we plan to be ready by the deadline.'

Transportation's contract was signed June 11 and includes PageScreamer plus services, training and support. Bureaus can purchase the discounted software independently. There is no dollar limit to the Transportation contract, which is expected to affect about 2,000 webmasters.

Susan Smoter, 508 coordinator in the office of Transportation's CIO, said DOT purposely waited until the last minute to find accessibility software. Those that started prematurely, she said, are finding that new technology can do more.

'The phones have not stopped ringing,' said Louis J. Hutchinson III, Crunchy Technologies' president and chief executive officer. 'We're crankin'. '

PageScreamer, which runs under Sun Microsystems Solaris, Microsoft Windows NT and Linux, can make a site accessible in as little as two hours, depending on the number of pages, he said.

Crunchy Technologies converted more than 3,000 of its own Web pages in about an hour, Hutchinson said.

The compliance effort is more substantial for federal Web sites. The largest ones have more than
1 million pages.

Hutchinson estimated that his company's software is in use at 80 percent of civilian agencies. He said he expects revenue to triple from the Section 508 fixes, with only a third of it coming from federal, state and local government organizations. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 requires that federal agencies make their systems accessible by disabled users [GCN, May 28, Page 1].

PageScreamer lets content developers scroll through Web server root directories and individual files to identify and correct noncompliant images or objects.

Late last month, the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy adopted PageScreamer and PageScreamer Spider, a tool that searches deep layers of a site for compliance.
Joseph McKay, CIO of the governmentwide policy office, said he expects his 27,000 static Hypertext Markup Language pages to be accessible by June 21, the deadline for system accessibility.

'We didn't just start this a few days ago,' he said.

McKay put together a full-time group of six contractors, content managers and publishers several months ago. They found that what he called immature software tools could not solve all the problems.

'You start up the software, and it'll pull [inaccessible pages] up, but you've still got to go through them,' McKay said. 'You can't expect the software to make the changes.'

Early Web problems

When the first Web pages were written years ago, he said, programmers left out exact beginning and ending codes and certain symbols and commands.

New software designed to make perfectly coded pages accessible cannot solve such programming problems.

'All the software is really sloppy,' he said. 'These tools are written for pristine codes. They make a lot of assumptions. Therefore, the whole thing gets screwed up.'

But they aren't completely useless. He bought 21 licenses for PageScreamer and PageScreamer Spider.

'Spider'that's gonna cut down on my burden for my contractors,' McKay said. 'It'll do the pages that I have to worry about.'

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