Monday, January 22, 2007

Section 508: gripes and suggested alternative solutions

In my career as a correctional supervisor, I led with the philosophy of “I’m not perfect and my decisions are not always the best, but don’t gripe about my decisions unless you can propose a workable alternative.” It left the door open for good input of ideas and also demonstrated a reasonable allowance for critique. In this same vein, I offer today’s post about accessaibility.

Last week, I posted a couple of times about Section 508. The reason for those posts was by necessity, as too many web sites still exist that limit access to people with disabilities. Following my own advice, while I don’t think I was necessarily griping, I continue the 508 discussion and suggest some alternative solutions to inaccessible web sites.

Granted, Section 508 only requires that entities that receive federal funds make their web sites compliant with 508 standards for access, but according to the
Newsletter, 18 states have already adopted the statutes set out in Section 508. Additionally, one private website,, is being sued for having an inaccessible website. So, it is becoming obvious that the trend of requiring access is growing.

And, wouldn’t it be nice if people just did the right thing and made their web offerings accessible to all from inception?

With all that said, there are still 32 states that don’t require web access standards and, at this time, the private business sector is only required to provide access if the individual business deems it a nice goodwill gesture on their part.

It is understandable that businesses want to market their wares using the snazziest and latest whiz-bang marketing technology. This often means using Flash media on their web sites, which is a graphical interface and, in the method usually offered up, is very inaccessible to users of screen readers.

However, it doesn’t need to be inaccessible. Methods exist to make the graphical content accessible.
Layers Magazine
Offers a site where web developers can read the
Flash 8 Accessibility Design Guidelines.

According to the site:
“Whether using ActionScript or the Accessibility panel in Macromedia Flash, creating accessible Flash content can be quick and easy. Using text and text equivalents, designers and developers can create exciting content for users of screen readers and other assistive technologies.”

“At the same time, the screen reader environment poses new challenges. Just as designers and developers are mindful of the user experience in a browser or stand-alone environment, it is important to consider how users of assistive technologies such as screen readers will interact with Macromedia Flash content.”

The site clearly demonstrates that just because it is made accessible, web content doesn’t need to be boring. Web designers can still use whiz-bang technology like Flash media; they just need to think with a little forethought to make it accessible. The guidelines shows interested parties how to install a virtual curb cut that allows everybody to gain access to their on-ramp of the information superhighway.

If web developers aren’t going to make the effort to make inclusion a forethought, then at least they can incorporate offering a web page text-only translator, such as the
Lift Transcoder,
offered by the
University of Florida’s Disability Service Office
web site. This useful application allows the user to take any web page and translate it into a version that is text-only.

While this software tool has the potential to make any web site accessible, I’m sure there are limitations. It falls into the category of the last, best solution under 508 standards, but a text-only version is better than one where no access is allowed.

With my pardons to Dr. King… I have a dream of a world where one day there will be no need for discussion about accessibility, a day where inclusion will be the norm.

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