Section 508

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Open source initiative will help the disabled

THE OPEN AJAX ALLIANCE (OAA) is using open source web 2.0 initiatives to improve Internet access for the elderly and disabled.

The OAA
announced the open source tooling technology to help developers create accessible web 2.0 enabled sites that meet online accessibility standards. The guidelines
followed are the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, version 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), considered as the industry-wide global standard
for accessibility.

Prioritize Accessibility Tasks

When it comes to accessibility have you ever found yourself in the following situations?

  • You wanted to make your site accessible but you didn't have the money
  • You just finished a web site or application and then found out that it is not accessible or Section 508 compliant
  • You thought a site was accessible and you found out that it really wasn't
  • You were told that your web application needs to be Section 508 compliant by a certain date and you didn't have the time to fix it

These are all valid issues, and you are not the only one facing them. But once this is the case, it does not mean that you need to forget about accessibility as it is. There is another way to go around it, and not only to make your site accessible or to bring it to legal compliance, but to show your commitment and willingness to work on it.

Prioritize
When what needs to be done costs way too much or you don't have the time to do it, set priorities.

First create a list of "would be nice to do", where you detail all issues which need to be fixed. It maybe long and overwhelming, but in the future it will serve as the backbone of a project plan.

Then complete the list with time and cost estimates.

Now you should have a good idea of what is and what isn't in your reach given your budget and time.

The final step in your priorities is to pick the items from the list which you are able to fix at this point, and evaluate which would make the most difference to people with disabilities.
Always remember, accessibility is not only about a checklist that you need to fulfill to make legislation or procurement agents happy. It is all about extending your services to people with disabilities, ensuring that they can use your product. Whenever in doubt, this should always be the bottom line.

Let me just give you two examples. The first one is to illustrate a small and easy-to-fix problem, the second will give you advice when there is thousands of Dollars of your budget involved.

First example

You need to decide between two issues to solve.

  • Your login screen contains an image verification which blind people cannot pass
  • Section 508 requires a link to a download page to Adobe Reader on pages where you posted PDF documents


Let's see the implications:

In the first case the login screen contains an image with letters that you have to type in to ensure human access in order to log in. This way automated systems cannot spam your application. Blind people cannot get past this verification test, and therefore they cannot use your application, no matter how accessible is the rest. Also, it is not Section 508 compliant.

In the second case, you have not included links to download the Adobe Reader when you posted a PDF file. While it is a Section 508 requirement, obviously people will most likely figure out that it needs a PDF reader, and most likely they will already have one installed. If not, they will find it.

If you have time and resources to fix only one of these, it is worth going for the first one, as it does more service to people.

Second example

Let's also compare two issues here, now each of them will cost thousands of Dollars to fix.

  • Hundreds of tables are not coded properly
  • Hundreds of videos are not captioned

In the first instance, you have a web site or web application where the tables are not coded according to Section 508 standards, and the row and column headers are not indicated. If the tables are generated automatically, it could just be an easy fix to alter the table generation process. However, if the tables are created individually, it could take days or weeks to update each table, which will obviously require lot's of hours from your staff, which could be used somewhere else. Such a violation could cost you thousands in labor to fix.

In the second instance, you have many short videos, and it is a requirement to provide captions or transcription so that hearing impaired people would also be able to understand the content. Also, it helps blind people to have descriptions of visual events. Again, it could take you days of weeks, and if you do not have the staff to do it, you might have to contract it out to another company.

It makes more practical sense to work on the videos instead of the tables if there is only one issue you are able to fix. If the tables are not too complex, even though you don't meet the Section 508 requirements and minimum accessibility standards, people will somehow be able to make sense of it, even if it maybe a little more difficult. However, if you don't provide an alternative for the videos, you will not be able to present this information to blind and hearing impaired people.

Selling a Partially Accessible Product

So, now you have a list of priorities based on your budget, human resources and needs of people with disabilities and you find that you are not able to fulfill all accessibility needs.

Accessibility remediation certainly does not end here, it is just the start. What we had done so far is deciding to do something about accessibility, even if it is just a little bit as opposed to nothing at all.

You might still get the question if your site is accessible, and the answer will be no, or partially. But at this point you have a reason to elaborate on the answer and explain what you had done for accessibility, which shows that even if you were not able to remediate the entire product, it is important for you to work on.

At this stage you can create a road map and continue fixing accessibility issues as your time and budget allows. Make sure that you distribute a road map with your application so that your clients understand how you are planning to address accessibility issues.

It maybe that your competitors' products are more accessible than yours, but only by accident, but based on your road map your application will be fully accessible down the road. People want to know about it, and they are more willing to work with you. Also, create an accessibility statement and post your roadmap.

When it comes to Section 508 compliance, it gets a little more difficult. Procurement agents are by law required to purchase the most compliant product. But what happens if your competitor's product is just as compliant as yours? You can get ahead of them if you create a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, and attach your road map to it. It will be more promising to procurement agents as you will be delivering more value on the long run.

Conclusion

If you are not able to address all accessibility needs at a given time, do as much as you can. It will make your application more usable, more desirable for purchase. In the meantime, you can craft plans to work on accessibility, which will make it easier if you can spread your budget and human resources needs over a longer period of time. However, it should not be an excuse of not addressing accessibility. Rather, a way for you to achieve something that is impossible at the present moment.

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