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<nettime> New US law requires Web sites to become handicapped accessible
Slobodan Markovic on Sat, 1 May 1999 20:39:09 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> New US law requires Web sites to become handicapped accessible



[from Declan McCullagh's POLITECH mailing list --sloba]


http://www.freedomforum.org/technology/1999/4/30handicapaccess.asp

New U.S. law requires Web sites to become 'handicapped accessible'
By Adam Clayton Powell III
World Center

4.30.99

Webmasters, Uncle Sam wants you to change your Web site to make it more
accessible to those who are blind, deaf and otherwise disabled. And for
some, it's not a suggestion: it's the law. 

The new rules are mandated by a little-known provision, Section 508 of the
Workforce Investment Act enacted by Congress last year. 

The new rules will apply within a few months to all Web sites operated by
government agencies and by anyone who does any business with the federal
government ^ and possibly soon afterward to every Web site posted in the
U.S., the government announced. 

Members of the federal Web site commission told ZDNet yesterday that for
non-government-related sites in the U.S., the guidelines would be
voluntary, but those who do not adopt them could soon face new federal
rules for all online publishing. 

Under the new law, Web sites will be required to restructure their
content, design and underlying technologies to allow "individuals with
disabilities who are members of the public seeking information or services
from a Federal department or agency to have access to and use of
information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the
information and data by such members of the public who are not individuals
with disabilities." 

Exactly what that means will be spelled out by the government next month,
when the commission established by the U.S. Architectural and
Transportation Barriers Compliance Board publishes the new rules for
online publishing. Provisions are expected to include a ban on any audio
without simultaneous text and restrictions on animated graphics. 

One preview of what the barrier board may publish next month is contained
in its own notices, which state that, in addition to conventional html and
pdf versions available online, all online information must also be
available from the agency via audio text and TTY, as well as "cassette
tape, Braille, large print, or computer disk." 

The federal guidelines follow publication in the Federal Register last
summer of the barrier board's intention to develop the new rules. And in
September, the board announced that a new federal committee had been
appointed to help draft the new requirements and that the committee would
begin meeting the following month. 

Most of the committee members were representatives of people with
disabilities, including such groups as the American Council of the Blind,
the American Foundation for the Blind, Easter Seals, the National
Association of the Deaf, the National Federation of the Blind and United
Cerebral Palsy Association. Also included were three members from the
computer industry, representing IBM, Microsoft and NCR. 

The announcement also disclosed that the barrier board would draft the
guidelines with a "less formal, but certainly no less important, ad hoc
committee," whose members were not disclosed. 

Members of the committee asserted that the federal government has power to
regulate the form and content of online information ^ as opposed to
print, where the government does not have such power ^ because the
federal government paid for the development of the Internet. 

"The Internet is subject to market forces, but it didn't start through
market forces, it was started by the federal government," said Jenifer
Simpson, a committee member and manager of technology initiatives at the
President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, in an
interview with Ziff Davis. Simpson added that the rights of the disabled
must prevail over other considerations. 

"This is really a civil rights issue," she said. 

And if online publishers decline to adopt the committee's new guidelines
voluntarily, the guidelines could become mandatory under federal law for
all Web sites, according to Simpson and to Judy Brewer, another committee
member who is also director of the Web Access Initiative. 

The new law applies to a broad range of Web, Internet and electronic
storage, transmission and retrieval hardware and software technologies,
specifically "any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of
equipment, that is used in the automatic acquisition, storage,
manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching,
interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information." 

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, in her memorandum on the new law,
included in the definition of covered technologies "computers (such as
hardware, software, and accessible data such as web pages), facsimile
machines, copiers, telephones, and other equipment used for transmitting,
receiving, using, or storing information." 

The attorney general also announced the creation of a federal Web site,
www.508.org, accessible only from government computers, to help Webmasters
ascertain whether they are in compliance with the new law. >From outside
of a .gov or .mil domain, users were today greeted by a 403 error code,
reading "Forbidden. You don't have permission to access / on this server." 

Last month, the WAI published its own set of proposed guidelines that
could be adopted into federal law. 

The first guideline requires Web sites to supply text alternatives for all
images and graphics. 

"Thus, a text equivalent for an image of an upward arrow that links to a
table of contents could be 'Go to table of contents'," the provision
reads. 

A second provision bars the use of color to convey information, because
"people who cannot differentiate between certain colors and users with
devices that have non-color or non-visual displays will not receive the
information." 

Other requirements prescribe punctuation and prohibit using multiple
languages on the same page, because that can hinder translation by Braille
readers, discourage the "use (or misuse)" of tables and other formatting
that "makes it difficult for users with specialized software to understand
the organization of the page or to navigate through it." 

Another provision requires Webmasters to "ensure that moving, blinking,
scrolling, or auto-updating objects or pages may be paused or stopped" and
to design all pages so they can be operated without a mouse or other
pointing device. 

"Interaction with a document must not depend on a particular input device
such as a mouse," reads the start of this provision. 

Another Web site lets online publishers test their sites using some of the
suggested guidelines that soon may have the force of federal law behind
them. The Center for Applied Special Technology has posted free software
it calls Bobby, illustrated with an image of a jovial waving policeman.
That cheerful logo doubles as a seal of approval that can be downloaded
and used by Web sites that meet Bobby's accessibility guidelines. 

Bobby flunked a number of widely used Web sites, including the White
House, where the software identified "13 accessibility problems that
should be fixed in order to make this page accessible to people with
disabilities." The software also identified additional "accessibility
questions" regarding which the Webmaster should "check each item
carefully." 

Unless those problems were fixed, warned the software message, the White
House Web site "will not be approved by Bobby." 

Bobby may be waving with his right hand, but in his left hand, not visible
in the logo, may be a billy club ^ Section 508. 

So, White House, be forewarned: Starting next year, any individual
anywhere in the U.S. will be able bring suit under Section 508 against
offending Web sites operated by a government agency or by anyone who does
business with the government. 


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