Apps, other techniques can help agencies comply with 508

Apps, other techniques can help agencies comply with 508

Federal IT specialists working to make Web sites and other electronic documents accessible to people with disabilities have an increasing range of tools to help them.

Admittedly, achieving compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 remains a challenge for many agencies, said Mary Frances Theofanos, center manager with the National Cancer Institute.

Of particular difficulty is tagging images on Web sites, she said. "There are problems with missing tags and problems with forms," she said yesterday at the Interagency Disability Educational Awareness Showcase 2003 in Washington.

But an HHS survey about Section 508 found that Web designers across the department "do understand that they cannot use color to convey information," Theofanos said.

Web designers' choices about navigation methods can be critical to building accessibility into a site, said Bob Regan, senior product manager for accessibility at Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco.

"For someone who is blind, the best method of presenting information on a Web page in an accessible manner is plain text," he said. "But for people with cognitive issues, text is the least appropriate method of accessibility."

Regan suggested that designers segment information into limited chunks to accommodate the needs of users with different types of disabilities.

"If you were to grossly characterize Web designers, you would say that they are visually oriented," he said. To make sure a site is accessible to the broadest number of users, have users with varying types and degrees of disabilities test the site, Regan said.

Ian Levit, vice president of Levit & James Inc. of Leesburg, Va., described how the pending third release of his company's Crosseyes application can help blind users and those with limited vision use Microsoft Word. Using Crosseyes with a screen reader, Levit demonstrated how the system displays Word codes in the same way Corel WordPerfect's reveal codes command does.

"There is no place in Word that displays all this information," Levit said. He also displayed how Crosseyes identifies the cells and contents in tables created in Word.

Greg Pisocky, civilian agency account manager of government systems for Adobe Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., described how his company is modifying Adobe Acrobat to assist blind users.

"Acrobat 6.0 has built in features such as vocalization of Portable Documents Format files," Pisocky said. "We are going to develop step-by-step techniques for accessibility."

Adobe also is preparing tutorials to help users of Acrobat create accessible documents, he said.


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