Thursday, January 18, 2007

More Section 508 information

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about Section 508 being under review. I have a few other comments and links about Section 508 which I’d like to share with you.

I was originally pointed in the direction of the news about that review by a link in
A monthly newsletter of AI Squared, the manufacturer of the ZoomText screen magnification software. If a reader prefers, there is a link on the page for an audio version of the newsletter available that plays in the ZoomNews Audio Player.

An interesting factoid from the ZoomNews site:

Every 24 hours, more than 3.2 million pages and 715,000 images are added to the internet.

Whew! That figure’s enough to boggle the mind all by itself.

Now, look at those numbers and think about how many of those pages and images are accessible. That’s what Section 508 is about. I don’t have the data, nor the intellect, to figure the accessibility of those pages and images, but, by my own experience, I would venture to guess that the percentage of accessible pages is probably pretty low.

ZoomNews also offers a brief overview of the issues considered to be critical by the Access Board to make web sites accessible. Here is their list.

• Documents must be organized so that screen readers, like ZoomText, can speak them to the user (without dependencies on associated style sheets or other external formatting information).
• Page frames and tables must be titled with text, including row and column headers.
• Electronic forms must be designed to allow the user to access all the information and functionality. In other words, to allow the user to navigate, read and complete the form in an intelligent manner.
• When timed responses are required, the website must alert the user and provide a method to give them additional time if necessary.
• All graphics must have a text element to identify them. This element can be alternate text that appears when hovering the mouse over the graphic and also able to be spoken by a screen reader.
• Information conveyed with color, such as charts, graphs and data legends, must also be comprehensible without identification by color.
• If compliance cannot be established any other way, the web site must provide a link to a text-only page, but this is only as a last resort.

If you want to brush up on your knowledge about Section 508, you can always do so via the official U.S. government
Section 508 Site.
A very useful feature for visually impaired readers of the site is the adjustable font selection and font size at the top of the page. I might add, these are easily recognized as user-selectable combo boxes, even by those who can’t physically see the page and access the page with screen reader software, a great point for others to emulate for access and inclusion.

This site also offers
The Section 508 Universe
an on-line training program, which you may find useful to share with others on your campus who are not as enlightened about federal law as you are.

Using the training site does require the user to register with a user name and password. No other information is gathered. The user name is used to allow users to pick up in courses at the same location they might have had to leave in a previous web session.

There are 11 courses offered through the Section 508 Universe. If you would like more information about what these are each about, check out the Section 508 Universe web site. These classes are:
• Designing Accessible Websites
• Accessible Conferences
• Buying Accessible E&IT (Requiring Officials and Contracting Officers)
• Section 508 Coordinators
• Additional Accessibility & Usability Concerns
• Accessible Video and Multimedia
• Building and Buying Accessible Software
• Buying Accessible Computers
• Opening Closed Products
• Micro-purchases and Section 508
• IRS Course on Software Development

Finally, there is also a
Section 508 Awareness CD
That is available through the website as a download. This CD contains general information about section 508 for all employees, and includes a self-test and copies of the statute and accessibility standards.

Even if you’re not the person in charge of purchases and development, such as those specified in the list of classes offered through the Section 508 Universe, as the DSS coordinator, you have a duty to ensure that the persons making these decisions do so with as much knowledge and insight to Section 508 as possible. Help these folks make informed decisions and share the knowledge of your expertise.

The exact requirements of Section 508 may change to some degree in coming months, depending on the recommendations of the review committee, but the general principles offered in the training and the CD download will still be in place. Stay tuned to see what happens.

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