August 6, 2001
Web Access Made Easy - The Programmers Guide
The CancerLynx Team www.cancerlynx.com
"Section 508 requires that Federal agencies' electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. The Federal Information Technology Accessibility Initiative is a Federal government interagency effort to offer information and technical assistance to assist in the successful implementation of Section 508..."
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires de facto accessibility by whatever means are available, subject to a standard of reasonable accommodation. Section 508 specifically applies to Federal grantees and contractors, and to the Federal government itself. This includes virtually all hospitals and educational institutions, and most health care providers, other than individual physicians.
There are no regulations, as such, for state, local, or private Web sites. Nonetheless, already certain private sites have been sued because they are inaccessible.
Even though private Websites are not regulated by the ADA, inaccessible sites are impractical. Of course, no one wakes up in the morning and says, ``I want to write a Website that only some can use.'' But if your Web site is difficult or unusable for your potential customer or client, you have wasted your clever coding and complex graphics.
While many libraries and hospitals could purchase special equipment for the disabled, it is an additional expense, dependent on the budget; and it would not help those who, for whatever reason, cannot physically get to that special equipment.
To meet Section 508 standards, a site should be accessible to palm held devices, small portable computers, WebTV, and older computers; by modems, ISDN cable modems and low band width DSL lines.
It is not, however, our intention to lecture or to preach. What we have tried to do is to provide a few relatively simple solutions, aimed at removing the major obstacles to full Web Accessibility. Providing access to all despite vision limitations, physical disabilities, or out-of-date equipment, may sound limiting, but it really isn't (unless you don't want a larger audience).
Redesigning For Access
The first thing to abandon is the notion that a Website's appearance can be micromanaged down to the last pixel. In fact, the same Website will look very different depending on the browser -- AOL, WebTV, Explorer, Netscape, Opera, Lynx -- not to mention all the different versions. Moreover, what looks good on one PC may not look right on other PC's, UNIX machines, MACS, laptops, flat screen monitors.
Then there's color perception, which can be changed by prescription medications, cancer treatments, and age. Of the general population, approximately 1 in 5 will have some form of visual impairment. 1 out of 12 men, or 1 out of 200 women, are partially color blind, i.e., unable to see this or that tint of red, blue, green or yellow. If a page depends on red lettering to make its point, someone who cannot see red may miss the point, as they will see only black.
Here the real problem is that (for example) cancer patients with lymphedema, stroke victims, amputees, and many others who are physically challenged, are unable to use a mouse or roller ball. Not all can retrain themselves to use another hand, or alternative limb.
Is your Website multi-user friendly?
Can it be used by the eagle-eyed, the blind, the color blind and the bifocal visitor?