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The Courts Government News

Adapting Existing Federal Web Sites For The Disabled? 111

Rafajafar asks: "I work as part of a federally-funded Webteam for a prestigious laboratory in the states. It has recently come to my attention that our government has placed a burden on us. Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act back in '98 which instantiated a committee to ensure that all federal technologies do not treat those with disabilities unfairly. This board released a set of standards that they created to ensure that the government doesn't violate the Rehab Act. This, although wonderful for the disabled, leaves many of us media lackeys at these federal facilities with a bit of a conundrum. How do we fix all this stuff within 6 months? Our site has thousands of pages that would need to be sorted through by hand and even with us abandoning all projects for 6 months, we would not be able to guarantee all pages to be fixed. I know our team isn't the only one with this problem, so I was wondering if you guys have any good ideas on how to go about changing our site, our videos, our presentations, and pretty much anything else that relies on one sense over another. We would prefer to avoid using the 'Undue Burden' clause as much as possible."
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Adapting Existing Federal Websites For The Disabled?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    "I can create a website with black text on a black background if that is what turns me on. If you dont like it, Fuck You"

    If you are creating a webpage for the government or a public company, you cannot create a webpage that is not easily accessible to the handicapped. Federal law requires that you abide by these [] standards when doing professional web design.

    "The ratio of people who are blind to people who are not is just too fucking small to bother wasting my time on the disabled"

    Using your argument, why does anyone develop for Linux since it's user base is so minute compared to MacOS or Windows.

  • In many cases, laws/legislation/regulations aren't completely cast in stone.

    For example, the local fire marshal came into our server room and found -no- sprinklers, and had a holy fit; he demanded we "get something installed by Friday, or I shut this place down."

    Pretty harsh, considering the quickest you can get a dry supression system is on the order of weeks; plans have to be submitted for approval to the city, the room has to be sealed, then leak tested, then possibly further sealed...then the plumbing work can start, etc.

    He was perfectly reasonable when a few days later we presented our side; we had 3 quotes from vendors and written, signed quotes saying they wouldn't even be able to start work for a week or two. He was very reasonable about the whole thing and made it clear he just wanted to see action and progress.

    Provided your team makes a good-faith effort, shows regular progress, realistic predicted completion dates, etc...I can't see anyone having a beef with you. If you simply throw your hands up, get really stressed, and say "It can never be done!", then yes, a lot of people are going to have a problem with that. All of what I've said applies to just about anything in school, business, etc.

    I was fortunate enough to have a professor or two who believed in the same; even if I turned in my paper/report/project a few days late, I had approached him before, explained I was having a rough time...AND I had seeked help and he could see I was making progress, or at least a concerted effort :-)

    Along the same lines, you may find some help from unexpected places. How about working with some organizations to get help from some handicapped high school students interested in computers, looking to learn more about HTML, scripting, and what your lab does? Not only might you reach your goal sooner, but you'll be solving the problem in an innovative way, be able to ask those groups to help make sure the content is useable, and making it very tough for anyone to come after you and say you haven't made the effort! They'll look pretty stupid yelling at you for being 2 months late if you can come back and say you helped half a dozen people learn valuable skills and you've got documented progress and good predictions on completion dates.

    On a seperate issues, some people complained about the legislation...the purpose of the legislation isn't to be unreasonable, difficult or cost the government big bucks. It's simply to make sure handicapped people get the same access to material which is being increasingly moved online; seems fair enough, and, honestly, information on how to make this information available in such forms has been publicized(including on slashdot) and generally available for quite some time; this stuff didn't just come out of the blue sky a few days ago.

    It's amusing to see the same hoards of people who bitched about sites not having ALT tags for lynx(which is a -PREFERENCE-; you don't -have- to use a text-only browser; you could install/run X and a dozen X browsers, or use MacOS/Windows/commercial unix) turn around and complain when someone makes them do similar work that is -REQUIRED- for someone who is handicapped to look at your content.

    You demand the world accomodate your preferences, but won't help someone who has to be led daily by a seeing eye dog, or faces more challenges in day than you will your entire life? Give me a break. That's just simply -pathetic-.
  • It is completely unreasonable for the government to demand the expenditure of enormous amounts of time and money to ensure that people with disabilities can get every bit of information from these web sites.

    That being said, I think it should be pretty easy to go through the images, add a discriptor to each, and maybe even make sure you aren't putting too much text in bitmaps. Perhaps for each important video presentation, add a text file commentary. Not for all of them, just a bunch.

    That's not a lot of work at all, and can easily be done in six months. You don't have *that* many pages!

    Anything more is a waste of your and my tax money.
  • When I started retrofitting my business site [], the first thing I did was generate a report using BBedit of which pages weren't HTML4.0 compliant. This gave me a list of what I needed to fix. I fixedas much as was possible with unix scripting, but mostly, I had to check each page as I went. The key is that I knew that I couldn't show everything to the blind, or lynx user, but I had to let them know what they were missing. with framesets, I gracefully degrade the bit where it usually tells you to get a better browser with a table of contents for the connected frames. If you have multimedia that won't degrade, inset a 1x1 pixel image in the space before the / tag, and use an alt tag that describes what the mutimedia was for .

    Why did a jewellery store web site go to this trouble? I have blind customers... they may not appreciate jewellery, but their sighted spouses do. The extra effort is worth it, if it makes me one big sale, because it shows I care. Any business that cuts off potential customers from acces is just plain stupid IMNSHO.

    The web page isn't perfect yet, but it is navigable to the blind. It also has all those things that people say you shouldn't use if you want it accessible to the disabled; frames, javascript rollovers, flash etc. the key is that those things are extras that add (or detract depending on your design aesthetic) to the site, and are not absolutely needed.

    Make the judgement calls on what to leave in, but it is worth the effort to make the site HTML4 compliant. I also learned a hell of a lot about how to really design a website, as opposed to putting together a few web pages. My next revision will involve moving everything to CSS.

  • Step 6: replace FrontPage with DreamWeaver so you can lay out pages in less than days on the taxpayer dime.

    Step 7: Call your lawyer to deal with all the lawsuits from the people you fired since nowhere in the job description nor in any management communication was "frontpage is forbidden" expressed until the pink slip was handed out.

    Step 8: Hire a whole new web crew now that the remaining overstressed webmasters who did know their shit have quit.

    Step 9: Go to step 1.
  • it's rather impossible to create a Braille website, no? I personally can't wait to see a site such as Slashdot be forced to switch to a 32pt font

    You have abolutely no knowledge about the possibilities of web technology.

    1. Braille is a dot-representation of normal text on the user side. There is nothing for a web designer to do, just make sure there is any text at all to present.
    2. Font sizes are not the realm of the web designer either - it's something that happens on the user's side again. If the user wants 32pt font sizes, they will tell the browser to show the content in that font size.

    Or are you one of those stupid web-DUH-signers who actually believe the user's client must present your content the exact way you have visualized it? If so, please make sure you get hit by a car before you risk reproducing.

  • Not terribly constructive I know, but these issues should have been brought up as a matter of course during the design process. Usability and Accessability should have been where your website was constructed from, not made to comply with later. Not only access for the blind, but other visual problems such as colour blindness.

    If people actually put some thought into their website design this would be a non issue. Compliance isn't hard if it's built in from the start.

    And to whoever said that this is basically a load of BS for the govmt to do this, you really want to turn those with disabilities into second class citizens? Because that's what happens when you deny them informational resources about the workings of their government and it's agencies.

    I know I'm repeating myself, but this burden, wouldn't be a burden if someone with a freaking clue in interface design had done the websites in the first place.

  • You obviously consider a blind person as someone who is totally unsighted. In actual fact most blind people are partially sighted and, in the UK, are able to obtain grants for thinks such as larger than normal screens, or "magnifier software".

    You don't need to modify the website for this.

    "Bigger version for the partially sighted: Click Here"

    "Louder version for the deaf: Click Here"
  • Don't do this for some mysterious group of "handicapped" people you think you'll never see or know about; do this FOR YOURSELF.

    So far no one has mentioned the obvious fact that we will ALL be "handicapped" by time, our life style, accidents, and so on.

    I don't know about you, but I'm 33, so I've been abusing my body for the last 20 years or so:

    • Watching too much TV
    • Listening to too much loud music on headphones or going to concerts (although that is totally worth it)
    • Spending too much time coding, web browsing, playing Unreal Tournament...
    • Spending too much time inside, rather than outside getting excercise
    • And don't forget the worst invention for all our wrists: the mouse and crappy computer GUI design (how many right handed people do you know that have switched to using their left hand?)
    Add all that up and I consider these regulations a good thing for me; not now, but in the next 15 years or so.

    Have any HTML coders used even something as simple and very useful as the accesskey attribute in some of their elements?

    This isn't the nearly the same as retrofitting mountains or bringing the standard down to the lowest denominator. This is just plain good sense and will help all of us over time. -- My sig is too cool to post, you'd just steal it and use it as your own. --

  • SOCOG (The Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) recently (~6 months ago) got fined for not providing a web site the was suitable for the blind (I think). Someone complained about the SOCOG site (I think it was actually the main olympic site), was unfriendly to those who are blind. The government department gave SOCOG 1 or 2 months to fix the site. They didn't do this, so they got fined. SOCOG's excuse was that it would have taken them 6 months to bring it up to speed. The committee didn't buy it and then fined SOCOG a fair amount of money.

    Is this fair? Dead right! It ain't to hard to put alt text into the images section (grep img | grep -v alt will find all those images with alt tags), as well as everything else. As they say, a stitch in time saves nine.

  • > to ensure that all federal technologies do not
    > treat those with disabilities unfairly.

    I'm not sure about the exact wording of the law (nor am I a lawyer), but it seems that fair treatment could be provided relatively straightforwardly.

    Rather than trying to gain control (and find some standardization) of all of your disparate existing web pages, what you should do is hire some professional "government web surfers" and provide a phone number (toll-free) where the disabled (primarily the blind, I would assume) can call and have someone look up the appropriate information on the government web site and read it to them.

    Such an on-demand service I believe has precedents: as far as I am aware, most educational services for disabled students (such as the tape recording of a text-book or lectures) are performed on-demand when a situation comes up rather than in advance; it also seems similiar to the concept of 411 service as opposed to a physical phone book.

  • Hi, Rafajafar -- I've met some of your web design team in the past, so I feel as if I "know" the folks in a way, and I've spoken with them about web accessibility, too.

    I agree with you that this is a complex problem; Section 508 compliance is a major issue facing all federal agencies. The bad news is that if you haven't already been taking steps towards understanding web accessibility, you may be in a bit of difficulty. The issues surrounding access by people with disabilities are not new; this has been discussed for a number of years, and as others have stated, it really is just a part of basic, quality web design, not anything particularly extraordinary.

    Unfortunately, while it's not all that hard to do it right, many people don't realize that, and many web sites, including federal sites, have accessibility problems.

    Several great resources have already been posted on this thread, such as the Web Accessibility Initiative [] and CAST's Bobby web accessibility evaluator []. Here's some others that might help you:

    As you can see from the links I listed, I'm involved in helping to solve this problem in a number of ways -- including the work with my "day job" employer, formerly Edapta, now Reef [] to develop software that adapts a page to the user's requirements. If you need more information on this topic, you can drop me a note (but please, not all of you); full disclosure is that Idyll Mountain also does consulting on this very topic, but don't worry, I'm not going to hard-sell anyone my services.

    At Reef recently I was asked to answer an editorial inquiry regarding this very question Rafajafar asked. Here's what I said:

    The best strategies are threefold, and are based on past, present, and future:

    1. Past: Old data represents the greatest challenge for web accessibility and section 508 compliance. Many thousands of web pages were created in a blatantly inaccessible manner, back before 508 requirements were created and before many people were aware of the issues. This means that there is a huge store of information which is inaccessible, but must be made accessible.

      This is primarily a resources problem; it takes time, energy, people-power, and money to convert those old pages into something which can be read by today's browsers, assistive technology, and database assimilation tools.

      In short, accessibility of legacy information is a problem akin to the Y2K problem. It consists of fixing problems which were caused by ignorance and poor programming practice; it is a simple problem in terms of complexity, but a time-consuming one.

      The ultimate solution is that those older documents must be updated in some manner. The most reasonable solution is to dump them into a database and make incremental repairs; there is no quick fix here to undo years of shoddy web design.

    2. Present: Web development being completed now must adhere to the standards laid down by section 508 guidelines, and must include all information required by assistive technology devices. Web authors doing government work must immediately be retrained to understand concepts of platform independence and interoperability necessary to create accessible documents.

      This is an area in which I've been working for a number of years, first by creating and teaching an online course in web accessibility through the HTML Writers Guild (just completed the 11th run of the course!), and then by creating a resource center at the Guild, the Accessible Web Authoring Resources and Education Center. I've also conducted in-house seminars at locations such as Sandia National Laboratories, as well as given presentation at federal, state, and public conferences on web design.

      Education is the key to accessibility for any documents being produced today.

    3. Future: In the future, the role of education will be reduced, because we will have tools which produce valid, accessible, usable HTML right out of the box -- something lacking currently in today's crop of WYSIWYG editors. But the web designer of tomorrow will have an even more potent tool at her disposal: Adaptive information delivery systems such as that being developed at Reef.

      Under such a system, web content creators and managers will be able to write once, web design artists will be able to design once per device, and the web morphing service and content edaptation service built into Reef will automatically produce any number of device-specific interfaces, from screenreader output to WAP phones; from interactive TV to braille terminals.

    --Kynn Bartlett

  • I was wondering if you guys have any good ideas on how to go about changing our site, our videos, our presentations, and pretty much anything else that relies on one sense over another.

    Now that's a pretty open-ended question.

    I would:
    1. Study your goal
    2. Understand your current state
    3. Build a plan to migrate your current state towards your goal, with the understanding of your deadline and your staff's capabilities
    4. Pursue the goal.

    It's really simple, but an incredible number of people can't deal with it.

    The important part is to not spend all your time whining about your duties. It just makes you look like you and your organization didn't properly do your job in the first place.
  • Having just recently broken my leg I have a newly found respect for the need to maintain accessibility to public places and information. I say- do what it takes to provide access they are only asking for you to conform to simple guidelines which are good policy at any rate. Do what it takes.
  • You are correct but since there is no enforcement provision for 504, no standard to conform to, and there is nothing in the FAR... it is effectivly the same as the ADA where it has to be challenged first even though the intent of the reg was different.

    When in doubt though, call the access-board, they are very helpful.
  • I would be interested if you could provide a direct link since I could not find the story.

    You are probably being required by the DoD to conform to 504 which requires general accessibility and many agencies have been conforming to the proposed, and now final, 508 regs as part of 504 compliance.

    In any event, call the access board yourself and they will tell you the same thing. 508 compliance IS NOT retro. Or call your agency coordinator. Or see the FAQ at which clearly states "on or after".

    I am pretty sure I have this right since I am helping coordiante the preperation for compliance for 70 web sites covering 5 agencies and have spent a good deal of time hashing this out with lawyers and agency coordinators.
  • Man, it disgusts me that probably the easiest solution is to delete them. Someone's going to complain about it being unfair, so you have to bring it down to the least common denominator, rather than let those who can, get the bonus.
  • I have a couple, but thats only because you have more than 1 problem, you have 3.

    1. How to update older documents (media, etc) so that they meet the required standards
    2. How to ensure that the documents you create now meet the required standards
    3. How to ensure that you will be able to maintain those standards in the future - as those standards change, you will need to conform to them - and you dont want to come across problem 1 and 2, 5 years from now!

    suddenly, the first two problems are the easy ones. But, of course, i have a solution, or solutions rather - that encompass not only issues 1 and 2, but 3 as well.

    I would outline these solutions further RIGHT HERE, but i dont want to do all that explaining if my email never gets read, or you dont wish to hear it.

    so write me if you want to hear more, and i will gladly explain.

    -voudras [mailto]
  • dont most sites do this now anyway?
  • well maybe becasue they have document that a blind or deaf person would want to access. this isnt just about a law, the reason the law was passed was so that people with disabilities can have the same access as the rest of us, or at least comparable.

    moderators come on, insightful, he said ignore the problem. that has never been an insightful solution to any problem.

  • But wouldn't it be nice if Slashdot automatically worked well in any browsing environment? Then when I switch from my desktop at work to my Palm on the subway, I wouldn't have to bother changing my Slashdot prefs or using a different login.

    (Slashdot's default mode actually works well on Palms, but you get the idea.)

  • One of these research labs being forced to comply could be days away from a cure for something like cancer, or idiocy, but they have to put it off to update a website?

    The cancer research lab isn't having its researchers do Web page design or its Web page designers doing cancer research.

  • Your second idea doesn't sound better to me since it requires maintaining two separate pages--twice as much work. And how do you decide where to draw the separation? There are many more than two kinds of browser.

    Your first idea--one page that looks good and works for all--sounds a lot better.

  • Eugenics!
  • Quite a lot of work has been done on this in the UK, particularly for vision impaired users of sites. We do a lot of work for local and central government in the UK and the majority of our clients now ask us for screen reader friendly versions of their sites.

    One simple but surprisingly effective solution is to post-process the HTML through, for example, a CGI script that strips out the majority of the formatting information and allows page colours and text size to be modified.

    One freely available CGI script that does this is the BBC's Betsie [] and another will be our own Patsie [] which will shortly be available under some free license, most probably GPL.

    Betsie's great but it doesn't work on the infernal IIS, which unfortunately we have to accomodate from time to time, so we're developing Patsie to rectify that.

  • For Bobby compliance I'd be inclined to look at the BBC's Betsie [] or our own Patsie [] which will shortly be available under some free license, most probably GPL.

  • Unfortunately, the managers and top people who authorize the formatting of the pages are so clueless, that they spend time on making sure that the HTML code output corresponds to the paper form, that they don't realize that trying to print from a web page will differ from printer to printer.

    I've tried to explain this, but it's like slamming into a wall...

    The last pages that I've done have so many nested tables to make it like the damn form, it's not even funny. Ugh...

  • The US Government would not have had to step in and make this sort of thing mandatory, had it been done properly to begin with. Sometimes just letting people do their own thing simply doesn't work out so hot. This is why there are building codes, mandatory drug trials, etc.

    When `the Market' fails, the Government should step in. That's one of the reasons why you have one. So stop bitching.

  • If you're a professional web designer with this sort of attitude, you shouldn't be.

  • Any disabled person could have sue you since 197X under the ADA and force you to be accessible, you should have been thinking about this all along.

    In many situations, partial compliance with the ADA is considered acceptable, as long as you have a documented plan for bringing yourself into full compliance, and can demonstrate that you are making progress on that plan.

    I spent several years working for a company that performed ADA evaluations, and I've seen an incredible amount money wasted on "fix it now but do it half-assed" solutions -- and those quick fixes often aren't even worth anything if you're sued, because they aren't in compliance with the applicable guidelines/regulations.

    Contact a couple of the bigger advocacy groups for information; my experience has been that they have better information, and are far more helpful than the government. They'll help you understand what you really need to do, and can point you to other resources as well.

    The most important thing is to do this right. You're not doing anybody any favors if you get your project done badly, but on schedule.

  • Just hire an expensive contractor -- who will then, essentially blow all the money on office space or going to tahiti or schoozing up or printing brocures. And, then when the 6 months come around, you'll be off the hook. Since you tried to find a way to fix it, but the contractor failed. The guys you hired have skipped to Nasau or something, so they can't be found. And, the whole thing doesn't even make the press and just gets forgotten.
  • correction: but so far I have found they are not worth it.

    Edward Burr

  • I work for the USPS and can confirm that all web sites must be 508 compliant by June 22, 2001. Yes, this means retroactively.

  • What we've been instructed to do at the USPS is either make the web sites, including all content, easily accesible via a screen reader like JAWS (I wouldn't recommend installing this on anything important) or have an alternate method of viewing the content.

    So, for pdf files, powerpoint presentations, etc., you would have to provide an alternate meansof receiving the content.
  • Since we haven't herd from any users with disabilities, I'll add my two cents. I strongly agree with Dr. Kothari that this initiative is long overdue. My disability is physical, not sensory, but it is still a pain in the ass to navigate sites that are polluted by needless animation and graphics. Accessibility guidelines encourage clean, efficient web design; a concept which many designers have difficulty grasping. People with disabilities don't ask for preferential treatment, merely equal access to the same goods and services enjoyed by able-bodied citizens. The Internet has dramatically improved my life and has given me greater indepence. So instead of bitching about big government and how the cripples are making your job difficult, do the best job you can and remember that nothing happens overnight.
  • Look into the book Web Accessibility for People with Disabilities by Michael G. Paciello. There is a review and preview of it here. c.shtml []
  • <html>
    <font size="+2">

    [Page Here]

  • My site uses CSS extensively, and it resizes fonts based on browser settings...

    ...just use "em" sizing instead of "pt" sizing for your fonts. And use percentages to set realtive sizes.

    Scott Robert Ladd
    Master of Complexity
    Destroyer of Order and Chaos

  • As someone who runs a government web site in an underfunded agency, with far too few people to run things properly (for obvious reasons I'm not going to state which agency)

    Of course you're not. Because every government agency on earth is "underfunded." When was the last time you heard a bureaucrat say "man, are we sitting pretty"? You could quadruple a government agency's budget and mission creep and bloat would absorb it like a sponge, and they'd still bitch about how they're strapped. I spent 10 years as a federal employee, and my experiences there are why I begrudge every dollar I send to Uncle Sam.

    (Ahhh, nothing like that first rant of the day.)

  • We might have a case, but I think our lawyers would prefer to stay away from litigation as much as possible. My checks come from the Southeastern Universities Research Association, but they get their alot of their money from DOE. There is a definite case for any disabled person to plee if they wanted to.
  • At last count we had 9000+ pages. :-P
  • We should be making sites accessible to disabled people because firstly it is fundamentally the right thing to do. It is a matter of human rights.
    We're not allowed to hang up signs any more (thankfully) which bar black people from certain drinking establishments or busses but when you exclude a disabled person from one of society's functions then you're just doing the same thing. Except you picked a different minority.
    If you accept, as I do, this point of view then chickening out because "it's difficult" is not an option.
    I'm probably being melodramatic here but what the hell, I'm part of an oppressed minority... Where would be be in the world if Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King had claimed "it's too hard"?

    Watch out for us crips. We coming and we're damned angry!
    BTW I may refer to myself as a crip, you, dear reader, may not.

    Secondly there is an economic argument here. Here in Britain there are 6.2 million disabled people with 33 billions pounds to spend (I can't speak for the USA) and anyone who regularly excludes those people is likely to make less money than somone who does not exclude them.
    Excluding 6.2 million potential customers (UK only) seems to indicate a paucity in the clue department.

    Thirdly, it's not hard.
    Good design for disabled people is good design period. And this doesn't just refer to websites either.

    Installing a ramp or having level access into your premises not only makes it accessible for people who use a wheelchair, it helps the photocopier engineer or the guy taking out the trash. It might just save you from a lawsuit or two.
    It doesn't take much to make a site accessible for disabled people, this is not rocket science were talking about. Just follow the guidlines and after a while it just comes naturally.
    How difficult can it be to use ALT tags when specifying an image? Or to ensure that you don't use colour alone to convey information and some other such blindingly obvious "tricks"
    Judging by some of the sites I've auditted it's nigh on impossible!
    It takes mere seconds to run a page through an accessibility checker like Bobby at

    [Begin Sermon]

    Please do not refer to my community as "the disabled". We are disabled people, and everytime someone talks about disability issues without mentioning the word people then we as a society forget just a tiny bit more that this is a people issue.
    If we keep forgetting hard enough and for long enough we'll be back to the dark days of the Third Reich where disabled people were shot, starved, experimented on like lab rats and then shot... The list goes on.
    [End sermon - The preacher has left the building and was last seen planning mass civil disobedience with a bunch of fellow crips]


  • Have you ever "viewed" /. through a screen reader []? I salute any blind /. readers for their patience...
  • I founded a company that builds software focused on solving this problem. Interestingly enough it is fairly easy to build a *combo* page that is compliant with the standards. As a previous post stated the largest problems, with regard to accessibility, have much more to do with poor HTML usage, rather than an ignorance of the needs of disabled communities.

    The problem that the government currently faces is that they have lots and lots of employees who build there websites yet know little of the world beyond FrontPage. This makes it difficult for them to build proper combination pages,a task that is relatively trivial for a well trained designer.

    Got 508?
  • Check out academic papers on Human-Computer Interaction. I'm a student at the University of Saskatchewan, and I know that several faculty members and grad students of the comp.sci. department work on developing computer tools for the visually or otherwise impaired.
  • I always test sites I write with Lynx. I do this because I assume that if you can easily navigate a site in lynx then a HC browser that is reading text or converting it to braile should have no problem with it.

    However, if you really want to go hard-core with your testing you should find a few handicapped browsers and/or equipment and test on those. And if you really want to be hard core gather this equipment and have HC ppl test the pages.
  • A web site which is not universally accessible is an indication of gross incompetence on the part of its designer. Or, the web site is aimed at a limited (known) audience.
  • The accessibility concerns are fully dependent on the equipment used to communicate and receive the information at the users end and this is not within your power nor should it be your concern.

    I can't tell whether you're trolling, or what.

    User equipment cannot turn a graphical navigation imagemap into something a blind person can use. Only the site's creator can do that.

    You might as well say that we don't need ramps at the library because some paraplegic's inability to climb the stairs is an end-user equipment problem.

  • Personal anecdote: I applied the same principles to my own web site, even though I didn't have to and my friends told me I was wasting my time because "nobody uses Lynx anymore." In the first week, I got 10 Lynx visitors.

    f3e2 pumped his lynx stats with the use of <META> tags.

    hot goatse.lynx, np lynx, naked lynx...

  • No, not like that. <font></font> is deprecated.

    Frankly, most of the problematic issues are cropping up because developers forgot to keep the *style* of their HTML separate from the *structure* of their HTML.

    Stylesheets have been around for _years_. And while browsers don't have great support for the full spec, most presentational aspects such as font, size, color, etc. work well cross-browser.


    <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/lowvis.css">



    <!--#include file="structured_content.html"-->

  • sharkticon's point was that sometime's it's impossible to cater to a small part of the audience. Why aren't all US federal web sites in Spanish as well as English? The answer is because it isn't worth the time for such a small part of the population even though Spanish-only speaking people have the right to access the same information as the rest of us.

    Here in Canada there's a law that forces businesses to make their office/store accessible to handicapped people. While this sounds great, what does a struggling mom and pop shop do? make $8000 in renovations to accomodate 1 or 2 people? That could easily put some small businesses out of business.

    I wish there was a perfect solution as much as the next person, but there isn't.

  • This is absolutely wrong! I develop one of the website's for the DoD and this is just not correct. Section 508 compliance *IS* retroactive... You can check DefenseLINK [] for all of the regulations.
  • Though my primary browser is Communicator 4.76, I use lynx too quite regularly. I have my own personal Web site and try to make sure that everything shows up right in any browser. Government "guidelines" on "access" for the "disabled", though, typically are intrusive and inappropriate in the extreme. It is neither necessary nor proper for the federal government to force private businesses to build wheelchair ramps. Is building them a good thing? Usually, yes. But it's not the government's place to mandate such things.
  • Most web browsers offer features for the handicapped, and if people are visually handicapped, they already have a braille reader setup for the most part. You could argue that the sites are already accessible by the disabled because of this. Not to mention taht this gives the disabled a choice of what tool they want to sue to maket he page more accessible for them. There's no way you could insure the page is 100% accessible for all types of disabilities. It's much easier to put that burden on the end user.
  • I am on the web team for a very large government agency. We, too, have had this dropped on our doorstep, and at first we freaked. We were told that our pages must comply with the Bobby Tool [], and on a few test-runs, not a single page passed. We have thousands of pages... how the hell were we supposed to make them all comply with this tool? (Someone mentioned automated changes, but that was out of the question because our content is developed by over a hundred independent authors, some of which are thousands of miles away.) So we did some checking up and found out that only publicly-accessible pages need to comply (~75% of our content is not accessible to the casual web-surfer). We did a little more research and found that only top-level pages need to comply. We still haven't received word on whether top-level means only the home page for the domain or whether it means every single index or default page out there. If the former, great! If the latter, then it'll be a bit more work, but nothing impossible. Let's not blow this out of proportion, people.
  • Well not only running a simple perl scrit would do. But lets add some extra features.

    1) a wav file / visual clues could welcome the user to the site and advise them of the following.

    a) if your eyesite is bad, move your mouse to the left side of the screen for larger characters.

    b) if you can't see. then move your mouse to the right and you will get spoken versions of the text enclosed

    2) when the user moves the respected sections a copy of the "normal pages" load up but with the special features.

    I think it would not be so hard to recode the web pages for larger fonts. As for the speaking section. I think that there is enough software out there that can convert text to spoken word ( please advise of a link if you know )

    as for checking the documents, that's were you'll lose some time but not that much.

    I hope that helps

    as for the blind and hearing impaired. I don't have a solution for it ( hey if you have an idea toss it up for discusion)


    spambait e-mail
    my web site hip-hop music news
    please help me make it better
  • I would start by examining the logs to see which pages are requested the most and fix them first.

    OpenSourcerers []
  • What you fail to understand is that this guy is just one person who suddenly has been given the task of making all the content in his domain accessible. The content itself was input from hundreds if not thousands of sources.

    As far as complying to W3C standards, even today there isn't even one HTML editor that is 100% compliant. The closest I've seen is HTML-Kit. Really, if I had to point any fingers it would have to be at the W3C for dragging ass on implementing needed standards. By acting so frigging slow, being indecisive, they all but ensured that software companies would either develop their own standards of pick and choose among the W3C standards for those they didn't think would be depricated in six months. Then I would blame the software companies that still fail at making content creation simple enough that laymen can create presentable, standards compliant HTML. Then I would point to the government for failing to realize the potential of the internet for collaborative efforts and information dissimination. Even today.

  • I think not really.

    Frist I'd start out by seeing what thes pages look like in lynx browser. Do you see everything? Can all the info be accessed? Many people who are blind or using braile reads WONT get the images, unless you put the alt= tag with ALL the images. Next make sure your URL's are accessable and if you use image maps make sure there is also an alt text.

    Next if you are using JavaScript make sure that you include the noscript so that they can see what they are missing. Also make sure you are not using JavaScript to perform any sort of extra features that they may miss out on if they're braile reading browser does not handle JavaScript. The best way to do this is to turn off JavaScript on your browser and make sure you can still access ALL the functionality of the site.

    Lastly or alternatively you could make a link on the front door to handcap accessable pages.

    Many people here seem to think that they do not need to do anything extra to help the handcap view pages, but they do. Also you should realize that there are more browsers out there than just IE and netscape and some people are minimalists and use some of these lightweight browsers. If this is a goverment page, you MUST be accessable by all.

    Additionally you may want to see how it is in other languages. Some states may require that a site be accessible in multiple languages, like english and spanish, or it may be worth it to make the site this way if it is a local goverment site and you have alot of a particular ethnic group.

    These are suggestions.. the best one is to ask your boss what the hell they really want ...

    I don't want a lot, I just want it all!
    Flame away, I have a hose!

  • You do not have to change your website at all.

    Your website does not define the media which will be used to define it. Your website will just send down the Internet pipe what it is requested for.

    The accessibility concerns are fully dependent on the equipment used to communicate and receive the information at the users end and this is not within your power nor should it be your concern.

    Did you write this website manually...??? You could do with a content management system...
  • This issue is already a pretty big deal in the web-dev community, and some people have put together some suggestions for those of us that work in or with a publicly funded website:

    Accessibility: more than the right thing to do []

    Workforce investment act of 1998 []

    Accessibility: The Clock is Ticking []

    Getting Started with Usability Testing []

  • I was somewhat suprised to see that many of the posts to this discussion fall into two categories (i) Why didn't you write this web pages correctly in the first instance & (ii) You can avoid doing it by this...

    The original request was for advice and suggestions on how to deal with this, and more or less stating that they didn't want to use any get out clause.

    I think this attitude should be applauded, all too many people are willing to avoid this sort of problem, and an honest request for help and suggestions on a difficult subject should be met with positive help and advice. It is very easy to throw stones.

    Personally I think that pragmatically you should do your best to ensure the major pages are dealt with and have a rolling program of gradually updating those pages that it is practical and sensible to changes. You should also have along with this, some sort of standard for web pages that advises on making new and updated pages as multiple-sense friendly (or whatever the PC term is) as possible.
  • A few composite replies to some of the statements that have been made here:

    fleener wrote: []
    Either the W3C standards will change to somehow radically change the makeup of pages on-the-fly for blind users, or another Jakob Nielsen will rise to power and make a lot of money.

    Actually, the W3C standard to change the makeup of pages on the fly exists; it's XSLT [] -- XSL Transformations. We use it at Reef [] (formerly Edapta) to do dynamic edaptations of the user interface to meet the needs of various audiences, including people with disabilities. If you want to see the semi-non-public demo pages from last year, drop me a note in email. (I'm not at liberty to get us slashdotted at the moment!)

    Argy offered great advice [], including:
    As to what you're looking for, I'd spend some time browsing your sites using lynx.

    If you haven't used Lynx for a long time, and don't want to bother to install it, you can also try Delorie's Lynx Viewer [], a web-based lynx simulator script.

    GC wrote []:
    You do not have to change your website at all. Your website does not define the media which will be used to define it. Your website will just send down the Internet pipe what it is requested for. The accessibility concerns are fully dependent on the equipment used to communicate and receive the information at the users end and this is not within your power nor should it be your concern.

    I beg to differ here; it's a common fallacy that assistive technology can solve all of the problems of access. In fact, I included this on a list of Common Myths About Web Accessibility [] because many people seem to think that a screenreader or braille terminal can fix everything [].

    The problem, however, is a simple "garbage in, garbage out" scenario. Assistive technology needs enough information to be able to cobble together an alternate access method. That information is encoded within the HTML file. If the HTML file is poorly done, then it may prove impossible to get even the minimum information from a page.

    If you don't want to simply believe me because I say it's so, then you could do a test yourself -- download a screenreader and try it out on a web page and see how it works. You may be disappointed to find that it's not as easy as you'd hoped -- and then remember that for many people this is their only way to access the web.

    A few quick links to screenreader (or screenreader-like) technology:

    1. IBM Home Page Reader [] 30 day trial, runs on Windows
    2. emacspeak [] download from Sourceforge, runs on Emacs


    --Kynn Bartlett

  • Formulate a fixing strategy, focus on the more important/essential areas first.
    Do the best you can, make it clear from day one that you are doing your best and spell out the additional resources required to get it done in time.
    Everyone has to deal with unattainable goals, demonstrate you are making an honest effort is pretty much the only thing you can do.
  • Learn Perl! Learn Perl! Learn Perl!

    Then really, and I mean really learn regular expressions.

    I use these to change the look and feel of web pages all the time.
  • As was previously noted, the rules apply to technology created/procured after mid-2001. But it wouldn't hurt to change what you've got anyway.

    With thousands of pages, I'd write a program to read through all of them, labeling whether they seem to be okay as is, or if not list what elements may need work, the most common example being "add alt tags to images," but also audio or video files that could use transcription, server-side image maps, and that sort of thing. If all your html files are on one server, this is pretty easy, but you could also modify a web crawler to scan multiple servers. There are web-based checkers that do this sort of thing, including W3C's own HTML validator [], but you'll probably want to write your own, dealing only with the issues you find really require changes.

    As to what you're looking for, I'd spend some time browsing your sites using lynx. Navigation and comprehension doesn't have to be perfect, but it should seem basically usable. The W3's guidelines give all sorts of specific suggestions, but for the most part, browsing in lynx and applying common sense will obviate the areas that need work.

    Some of JLab's pages are very visual, but most just need alt tags added. For pages that need changes, look at [], which has essentially one image cut into 30 GIFs to allow pretty mouse-over highlights on its links. There are essentially three choices for this sort of page.

    1) Parallel pages. Put a "text-friendly version" link at the top, with a parallel, text-friendly version. This is only necessary for certain pages - keep links on the pages the same and just put alternate versions of each page as it's needed. And I wouldn't go text-only, just text-friendly....

    2) Text-only makeover. Redo the page to cut out the unnecessary graphical frills you put so much work into creating, thereby having *only* a text-friendly version.

    3) Dual-use makeover. Redo the page to use unnecessary frills, but with text-friendliness in mind as well. This doesn't really take any more work than the doing a text-unfriendly design, but since you're doing it over, text-unfriendly design, but since you're doing it over, it's certainly a hassle.

    Ultimately I think dual-use, accessible design is what the legislation in question is trying to encourage.
  • If you haven't looked at it yet, [] is a great resource in making your site readable by anyone, for instance, people without sight (i.e., via lynx in blinux).

    The same issue is on the table at my university, where there is a big push to make the websites available to people with disabilities and/or without the latest technologies.
  • I suppose the old HTML of the early 90's could have been used, but HTML 4 is for people with eyes.

    You apparently don't know what HTML 4 [] is. HTML 4 Transitional and HTML 4 Frameset may cater to people with working eyes, but HTML 4 Strict does not.

    I use HTML 4 Strict on all new pages that I write, and eyes are not required.

  • Ok, you've got 10000 documents to fix in 6 months, and you can't just "drop everything". Say that you assign the task to only two people, who will work on it full time (8 hours/day, no overtime). Most of the work is probably something you could hire from a temp agency.

    <reaching for calculator>

    Six months, 20 work days per month (allowing for some sick/vacation), just 2 people assigned to the task, that's 1920 man/hours for the project.

    You've got 11 1/2 minutes per document. You need to be converting 84 document per day (if the total really is 10000), so keep track of the progress and make sure you're meeting the 84 document daily quota. The message say "thousands", if it's really closer to 2000 or 3000, this really isn't such a difficult task.

    Perhaps each of these thousands of documents really does require a substantial rework, but the much more likely case is that many of them are designed similarily which will speed the process. If most of it is poorly built html (adding alt tags, etc), 11 minutes per page should be plenty, even 5 minutes may be ok. How long does it really take to make similar changes to a large pile of documents?

    I read the tone of this posting as basically the victim mentality. With that mindset, you'll probably never even get started.

  • Some designers welcome this monstrous retrofit project. For example, universities traditionally provide meager funding for web site development. Although this law does not apply to them, it is a harbinger for things to come. Such non-committal organizations will be forced to throw resources at web development to accommodate disabled access, or seriously reduce the site of their sites. The days of relying on a design infrastructure consisting of students, interested faculty and secretaries are numbered.
  • Keep in mind that "accessible" does not mean "easy to use." Even W3C-compliant accessible pages are difficult to navigate for blind users because every aspect of the browsing experience is different than a sighted person. A site deemed "accessible" is still designed by and for the sighted user.

    After state and federal sites are made accessible, disabled users will want more (as they should) because of how many services will be delivered online. Vision impaired users, in particular, will want sites tailored to the hardware and software and distinctly different style of navigation they must use. Either the W3C standards will change to somehow radically change the makeup of pages on-the-fly for blind users, or another Jakob Nielsen will rise to power and make a lot of money.

  • You're crazy. The more fancy but pointless graphics a page has, the less likely I am to stick around and finish reading the text. Pages that require shockwave or flash to view don't even get seen by me. Yeah, I miss out on a few things, but so far I've found they are worth it. If the page is readable using lynx, it is a well designed page. Graphics have their place, when information cannot be presented as effectively with text, but most of the graphics on the web even now is just eye-candy that, at best, gets in the way of the text.

    Edward Burr
  • I'm curious to see how blindness would be covered under something like this. Wired had that small piece on the handheld machine that converts text to braille under your fingertips (it looked like a small Edison wax drum), and of course there's always the option to have-the-computer-read-to-us.

    But how would you convert a Powerpoint demonstration to one of these technologies? Or a gif with text in it? Can you?

    Carmack is an elitist, pseudonerd bastard.

  • I thought for CERTAIN I had my email address in my slashdot user info-

    email victor at

    A host is a host from coast to coast, but no one uses a host that's close
  • It depends on what they are looking for.

    The simplest thing might be to generate a set of parallel pages which are oriented to those with various disabilities.

    This might be far easier than trying to do a combo page. And once a template is set up, you might be able to set up a script for bulk conversions. It would probably be less effort to correct a bunch of text oriented pages which are 90 -95% compliant then to re-design everything from scratch.

  • as a side note, I would probably include in the pages some sort of hidden string or meta tag that identify the page location and the corresponding locations for the alternate forms of the page, etc. I would also identify the pages by some sort of standardized naming scheme and/or directory scheme.

    The idea is that with such a standardized scheme, a script for bulk conversion becomes much easier, since the name and location and function of the page is related to the metatags or whatever in the file itself.

    Just my two bits.

    of course, for pages generated via CGI, php, etc., a different approach is needed, but you still might be able to script the conversion, depending on the original design.

    If the design is basically AdHoc with no naming conventions and lots of inconsistent setups (with bazillions of cgi scripts, etc for lots of funky sites)...

    Well, you may have a problem.

    It could become a problem similar to the Y2K issue. You would have to re-write everything.

  • For example, if a visually impaired user heard the fire alarm, and navigated to the Jlab web site in order to find their way out of the building, one can just imagine their screams of fright when they realize that their only resource is a JPEG

    Well, we know we want to make the building layout accessible to all users and we know that plain text is accessible to all users (since blind users can use a screen reader). Therefore, the obvious solution is...

    You are standing in the first floor hallway of the Applied Research Center. To your north is room L117. To your south is room L110. The hallway continues east and west.
    > n

    You are standing in room L117. On one side of the room is a fume hood made by Thin Films Technology. Standing here is Prof. Mool Gupta.
    > say Natalie Portman rulez!!!

    Prof. Gupta mutters something about idiot Slashdot trolls. He pushes a button on his desk. Moments later, security guards arrive and escort you out of the building.

    You are standing outside the main entrance to the Applied Research Center. The lobby is to your southwest.
    > sw

    The security guard pulls out a gun and shoots you. Your body is never found. Your score is -1 out of 5. This gets you a rating of "Lame Troll". Play again? (y/n)

  • Yes, as I said a few posts up, a simple javascript app could ask the browser wich version it wanted. You could leave your Palm browser on "simple" all the time, so it would be transparent to you. I'm not implying at all that the user would have to do anything special to access this content.

    "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

  • No, dynamic content such as Flash, Shock, blinking shit, and javascript menus are for people with eyes. In case you didn't notice, you can still write PLAIN TEXT pages with HTML4 that can be read by a text-to-speach program on a disabled persons computer.

    "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

  • Because we are talking about goverment pages now, wich, by law, MUST be accessable to the blind and other wise disabled. This is not to say that the pages cannot still look good, just simplified a little. Or even better yet, a cross-browser standard (not that THAT will ever happen) so that two versions of the same page can be written, and a simple javascript app can ask the browser wich version to load.

    "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

  • Actually, it wouldn't make maintaining a second page much harder at all. Some type of special WYSIWYG editor or similar program could insert the text only into a preconfigured standard page layout in the page for the disabled. Or, a server side script could just extract the text portions out of a CSS (wich will always have the text in the same place) when a request for a simple page comes in. By standardizing the page layout for the entire site, no additional work would be required. This is nothing new, even /. can be loaded in a simple, plain text version. And I know Taco doesn't maintain two seperate pages, the spelling errors between the two are always the same.

    "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

  • However, each one of these pages alone represents a true barrier to the handicapped. For example, if a visually impaired user heard the fire alarm, and navigated to the Jlab web site in order to find their way out

    When it involves the government, why must people always used the most screwed up logic?

    I for one, always run to the nearest web browser when I hear a fire alarm. RIIIIGGGHHHTT. Come on... all public buildings already have fire safety measures for disabled people, modern ones include rescue areas for each floor for people in wheelchairs, and braille/big red signs, guiding you to them.

  • Note to self: Reading the last paragraph in messages BEFORE you reply to them helps avoid such foot in mouth syndrome. hehehe
  • But when the difficulty is language understanding, you can get around it by learning the language.

    Well, considering that about 50% of the population has an IQ under 100, should we design all sites dumbed down so that these borderline retards can read it?

    Depending on your view of intelligence, most people say that it is a fixed factor, after childhood, therefore, these people must be in the same situation as disabled people. Your logic kind of breaks down.

  • Well, I wouldn't want to have this job. Even with the few sites I admin, this would be a major pain to make some of the necessary adjustments, seeing as how lots of stuff is simply hardcoded. You could do some Perl magic to make some things easier like: find /home/directory/ "*.html" | xargs perl -p -i -e 's/sometext/replaced_with_this/g' (I think that works, my scripting skills are a quite rusty).

    Anyhow, I know one of the things they require is placing "ALT" tags for images. This would be a major undertaking for any medium to large website that didn't place ALT tags initially, at least to place relevant ALT tags on IMG's. Maybe you could follow the "letter of the law" by just putting the same ALT tag on all images on the site?

    We love ALT tags. The Linux Pimp []

  • CAST [] has a tool available [] for download which will scan entire sites and give a report on it's accessablity.
    This could be used to cull the pages that are already acceptable.

  • Section 508 compliance for "Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications " is retroactive and does not fall under the enforcement of procured items. You are right that Section 508 does not require retroactive enforcement of procured software such as operating systems, etc, etc. But, from the summary:

    "However, even though section 508's enforcement mechanisms apply only to procurement, the law does require access to technology developed, used or maintained by a Federal agency."

    I will try and find the document but I have seen a document which specifies that the twenty most visited pages on every federal website must be compliant six months after the final standards were published.
  • by TomatoMan ( 93630 ) on Saturday February 10, 2001 @07:32AM (#441944) Homepage Journal
    The w3 [] has been talking about this for years. The Web Accessibility Initiative [] is their site dedicated to exactly this issue, and is rich in information and resources for implementation. See particularly the guidelines [], checklists [], and techniques [] sections.

    You do have a lot of work ahead of you. It's much easier to start with accesibility in mind than to retro-fit everything. You might be able to script some of it, as others are suggesting, but your first step should be to thorougly familiarize yourself with the information at the WAI.

  • by LiamQ ( 110676 ) on Saturday February 10, 2001 @07:30AM (#441945)

    First of all, there was no such thing as "HTML 1".

    HTML 4 Strict is useful even for "plain pages" because it provides style sheet hooks (CLASS [] and ID [] attributes), internationalization (LANG [] and DIR [] attributes, BDO [] element, entities [] for characters such as the euro), as well as useful new elements like ABBR [] and ACRONYM [] that allow you to give the long form of the abbreviation through the TITLE [] attribute.

    HTML 4 Strict also adds accessibility aids such as the LABEL [] element for indicating the text associated with a form control.

  • by LiamQ ( 110676 ) on Saturday February 10, 2001 @07:07AM (#441946)

    Web sites don't rely on one sense over another unless they've been written poorly. A well-written Web site will adapt seamlessly to any display device, whether it's your 21" monitor, your PalmPilot, or your speech browser.

    Of course most Web sites are written poorly, so now you have to fix the mess. Good luck.

    Have a look at the W3C []'s Web Accessibility Initiative [] for some guidelines and techniques.

  • by chrylis ( 262281 ) on Saturday February 10, 2001 @07:03AM (#441947)
    While I think that the federal government is really going way overboard on "disability compliance", etc. etc., there is one way that this burden might be reduced. If all of the pages on a site are formatted the same, you could use a Perl script to automate a lot of the changes. If you're using stylesheets, even better; a simple addition of extra media types will make many pages instantly "handicapped accessible."
  • by sharkticon ( 312992 ) on Saturday February 10, 2001 @07:05AM (#441948)

    It seems to me as though this is a piece of legislation that has been passed to make people happy rather than to actually be implemented in full. Sure you should make some of your more critical web pages compliant, but if I were you I'd prepare a time study detailing exactly how long it'll take you to get all these changes implemented, and watch how fast they decide it falls into an "Undue Burden" category...

    If you really need to do so at some later point it can be done then, but as it is it's a lot of effort for no real gain. This sounds harsh, but sometimes it's just not worth the time to cater for such a small part of your audience - just look at how many sites are giving up on supporting Netscape because it's dead and there's so little point in spending the time to keep a site compliant for different audiences...

  • I have to congratulate Jlab on doing a stunningly great job on the safety pages. I was awestruck that you put the emergency evacuation plans available for the public to see, right down to showing where the extinguishers are in each building. Amazing.

    However, each one of these pages alone represents a true barrier to the handicapped. For example, if a visually impaired user heard the fire alarm, and navigated to the Jlab web site in order to find their way out of the building, one can just imagine their screams of fright when they realize that their only resource is a JPEG. Oh, the horror. If only the web designers had thought ahead, and planned for these kinds of circumstances, death could have been avoided.

    Sarcasm aside, man, you really do have a heck of a case for the undue burden clause. A lot of the stuff on this site is frills. (An image of each building?) You could indeed make them more accessible, or you could just plain delete them. I love the site, you're doing a great job of disseminating information, but some of that stuff just isn't necessary for the outside world to see over the internet, is it?
  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Saturday February 10, 2001 @08:00AM (#441950) Journal
    Just because you can do something does not mean you should.

    Just because you can create a five-minute Flash flyover of Washington D.C. to play before anyone can get into your site does not mean you should.

  • by f3e2 ( 235629 ) on Saturday February 10, 2001 @08:05AM (#441951)

    I am currently working on a US government web site. (OK, it's a state web site, but they are holding us to the federal rules because they know they're next...) Here's some practical advice:

    1. Read the W3 Accessibility Initiative [] to get an idea of the concepts of making the web accessible. Contrary to popular opinion, the web is for everyone.
    2. Use Bobby [], a free automated tool written in Java that can check your entire site for accessibility problems. It categorizes problems based on priority level, checks pretty much everything listed in the WAI, and tells you what you still have to check manually that it can't check automatically.
    3. Read the W3 Techniques for Web Accessibility [] to get an idea of how to implement the changes. Contrary to popular opinion, HTML 4 has many features specifically for blind/deaf/disabled users.
    4. Test your site yourself. Use Lynx [] to see what your site looks like to the blind. Do all your images have meaningful ALT tags or LONGDESC tags? Do your tables have SUMMARY tags? Is your navigation usable without Javascript or Flash?
    5. Set your text size to maximum to see what your site looks like to visually impaired users. You are using relative sizes for your fonts and percentages for your table widths, aren't you?
    6. Turn off your speakers to see what your site looks like to the deaf. If you have audio feeds, do you also have transcripts? If you have video feeds, are they closed-captioned?

    It's not rocket science once you know what you're doing. Personal anecdote: I applied the same principles to my own web site, even though I didn't have to and my friends told me I was wasting my time because "nobody uses Lynx anymore." In the first week, I got 10 Lynx visitors.


    You're smart; what haven't you learned Python yet? []

  • by raju1kabir ( 251972 ) on Saturday February 10, 2001 @09:33AM (#441952) Homepage

    I don't see any reason that we shouldn't have to customize websites for persons with disabilities.

    I can.

    A properly-designed web site does not need any customization for persons with disabilities.

    A web site which is not universally accessible is an indication of gross incompetence on the part of its designer.

    Obviously, not every adornment and photo needs to be described in painstaking detail. But - and this is particularly important on government sites, which exist to make important information available to the public - there should be no frivolous impediments to the transmission of information. And this goes from Day One.

    A couple years ago I was with a government agency which, to its credit, decided to get an early move on this and get all its pages accessible.

    It was a tremendously valuable project, because running all the pages through Bobby and other validators not only highlighted the pointless inaccessiblities that riddled the web site, but called attention to all the other coding errors and other latent problems lying beneath the surface.

    It also made it very clear which of the web developers knew what they were doing, and which were utterly useless goldbrickers, tossing together nonsense using FrontPage when they had claimed to know HTML.

    Many of these same people thought it was impossible to have pages that are visually engaging and accessible at the same time. This is precisely because they did not know HTML, and thought that the only things that could show up on the web were the fetid oozings from the back end of FrontPage and its ilk.

    So, here's the Rapid Accessibility plan:

    1. Conduct spot checks and immediately fire anyone on whose computer FrontPage shows up in the recently-used applications
    2. Use a tool like Bobby [] to get a detailed review of problem areas
    3. Study these to determine patterns (missing Alt attributes, etc.).
    4. Assemble tools (using Perl or some other rapid-development language) to automate the repair of the patterned problems. For instance, for the missing Alt attributes, write a program that presents each image on each page, asks an operator to write a label for it, and then writes the page back out with the labels added.
    5. Conduct another spot check to see if you missed any of the FrontPage users the first time around.
  • by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Saturday February 10, 2001 @08:07AM (#441953) Homepage
    Oh, baloney.

    All that has happened is that they're having their hands slapped for being so *stupid* as to design the site so that the "This Page Best Viewed Using MSIE" warning had to be used.

    If they'd stuck to the damn *standards*, they'd never have encountered this problem.

    Now that they're forced to be smart, the web pages will be viewable not only by disabled-friendly browsers (browsers that provide 500x zoom for the visually impaired; browsers that will read the content to the blind; browsers that will send output to a braille interface), but the pages will also be viewable to people using Palm Pilots, Netscape, Lynx and any other browser.

    So what's it gonna take? Not a whole helluva lot: get rid of browser-specific tagging. Get rid of frames. Add ALT text to all images. Provide text descriptions of any animations/Flash/videos.

    In other words, they have to do all the things they *SHOULD* have been doing, right from day one.

  • by Juggle ( 9908 ) on Saturday February 10, 2001 @07:31AM (#441954) Homepage
    If the job had been done properly using the tools available at the time this situation would never have come up. I'm sorry but I can't feel bad for a government agency which did a poor job and now wants us to feel sorry for them because they're being told to correct the problem.

    Go spend an afternoon browsing through the W3C archives,, and and when you realize that this is nothing new but rather exactly what those with clear vision have been advocating since the dawn of the web maybe you'll just have to crawl back to your post and do your job properly.

  • by gyges ( 79472 ) <> on Saturday February 10, 2001 @07:20AM (#441955)
    Call the people at the The regulation only applies to things created/contracted for after June 22, 2001. You do not have to retroactivly alter your entires site. Also note that,
    1. Most of the regs, refered to as Section 508 are really just good coding practice (like using alt tags on web sites.)
    2. Any disabled person could have sue you since 197X under the ADA and force you to be accessible, you should have been thinking about this all along.
    3. This regulation appliies to everything IT related, not just web pages.
  • by firewort ( 180062 ) on Saturday February 10, 2001 @07:22AM (#441956)
    Here's a possible solution.

    The standards don't aim at eliminating graphics and animations, but <quoting> Generally, this means use of text labels or descriptors for graphics and certain format elements. (HTML code already provides an "Alt Text" tag for graphics which can serve as a verbal descriptor for graphics). This section also addresses the usability of multimedia presentations, image maps, style sheets, scripting languages, applets and plug-ins, and electronic forms </quoting>

    What if the whole site were transformed into text which could then be read aloud?

    IBM's WebSphere Transcoding Publisher was designed as a helper to servers for wireless devices, because it takes normal websites and transforms the *ml into something a wireless devices' browser can handle. It does this on the fly with little or no performance hit, changing sites to text, to voice, resizing and altering images for whatever device you may be browsing from.

    In this case, it could transcode a normal website like yours into VoiceML and be read aloud, or into text and be read using the blind users' screen reader. You wouldn't have to redesign anything about your site, except to ensure that disabled users got the properly transcoded site.

    It really appears to me as though Transcoding Publisher running on your server would solve your problems.

    Look at ng/

    and /transcoding/ibmtranscoding/html/proxydemo.htm

    email me if you want to talk more about it.

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