Administration set to survey Section 508 compliance

The Section 508 Working Group is preparing to survey all executive branch agencies about their IT's accessibility to the 54 million disabled Americans, an Office of Management and Budget official said today.

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.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 requires the survey every two years.

Field spoke at the second annual Congressional Web Accessibility Day sponsored by the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus.

Web sites are updated so frequently 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.

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, he said.

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

Alma Candelaria, House deputy executive director for the Compliance Office, said she hopes that Congress soon will pass a law extending Section 508 regulations to the legislative branch. (Click for July 15, 2002, GCN coverage)

Agency and congressional webmasters have been discovering the usefulness of working together and sharing best practices, said Terry Weaver, director of the General Services Administration's Center for IT Accommodation.

Kathy Goldschmidt, technology services director for the Congressional Management Foundation, offered five tips for improving Web site accessibility without adding layers of expensive technology:

  • Add descriptions to all images

  • Make all links easy to understand out of context

  • Make it possible to skip repetitive lists of links

  • Remove any blinking, moving or flashing elements

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

  • 'Unfortunately, ensuring a Web site is accessible 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 (Click for March 10 GCN coverage), said that her group will test for accessibility in future surveys.

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