Last night I gave a presentation for an amazing group of web designers and developers in Portland, Oregon. I spoke about web accessibility, a long time passion of mine. My co-presenter was Winslow Parker from the Oregon Commission for the Blind who has been teaching screen reading and computer techniques to the blind. He’s also a long time expert and consultant for JAWS Screen Reading Software. He also happens to be blind, so his passion for his work is tightly mixed with his passion for life and accessibility.
As I stood before the crowd at WebTrends, beside me in spirit are two of the world’s passionate leaders in web accessibility. Glenda Watson Hyatt, author of Blog Accessibility and the free ebook, The POUR Ebook: Standards, Tips, and Techniques for Meeting Web Accessibility Standards, and Aaron Gustafso, author of Adaptive Web Design: Crafting Rich Experiences with Progressive Enhancement, a life changing book for an web design and app developer.
There are some critical things ALL WEB DESIGNERS and WORDPRESS THEME DEVELOPERS must know about recent changes in the laws from the Americans with Disabilities Act and US Government. I do not capitalize those words lightly.
Web designers and developers are unfortunately uninformed or aren’t getting the news, so many site designs and WordPress Themes and Plugins are non-compliant, though many have been for many years. The problem is “how would you know the difference?” There are tests I’ve listed below that will check a website and design for compliance.
Government sites have been warned about compliance for almost a decade, but commercial businesses, non-profits, and educational institutions are still not getting the message. In “Web Accessibility: Required, Not Optional” by the University Business Magazine, the author explains that the upcoming EDUCAUSE annual national conference will have many sessions dedicated to compliance with web accessibility rules and regulations, encouraging and helping schools update their websites and online teaching sites.
“One of the biggest problems with accessibility is that it tends to be a quiet problem,” says Glenda Sims, the HighEdWeb conference chair and a senior accessibility consultant at Deque Systems, Inc. Issues with inaccessible websites are, by nature, invisible to the eyes of the vast majority of web visitors and most web developers. With tighter budgets to manage, emerging technologies to implement, and other “more visible” issues to tackle, many institutions have let web accessibility slip off of their to-do lists and have overlooked for too long their obligation to comply with the laws and regulations in place.
Many institutions have let web accessibility slip off of their to-do lists.
As findings from a 2008 study conducted by the WebAIM on behalf of the National Center on Disability and Access to Education (NCDAE) show, only 3 percent of web pages randomly selected from the websites of 100 institutions were deemed accessible by demonstrating full compliance with the federal standards of Section 508. This poor performance in terms of accessibility looked even more heartbreaking when compared to the conclusions of a similar study done by the NCDAE 10 years earlier. In 1998, like in 2008, 97 percent of the web pages didn’t meet the basic web accessibility standards.
The article points at Google Apps, a popular resource today for many teachers, being non-compliant and in violation of the federal laws that prohibit educational institutions to “acquire, offer, or recommend technology that is inaccessible to those with print disabilities.” With legal action pending, Google jumped and cleaned up their programs and now require all of their apps and programs to run through extensive accessibility testing.
The Title II of the United States Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (amended in 1998) required schools, government agencies, and commercial companies require equal opportunity access to public spaces. Section 508 states that all technology purchased and for use by these groups must also comply with equal opportunity access for the disabled, so this is not a new ruling. It’s been around for decades, updated to accommodate the new digital world. The probationary status is now gone and the law is now in full stature.
This isn’t news, yet many in the web industry are hearing it for the first time.
Notes from Lorelle’s Web Accessibility Presentation
The following are my notes from the presentation with links to online resources to help web designers develop accessible websites, and a few things you need to know now in order to comply with recent rulings on web design for accessibility.
The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.
Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
From the Sydney International Olympics accessibility lawsuit:
SOCOG said: “Our site is too big to make accessible. It will cost too much to retrofit.”
Court said: “If you did it right in the first place, it would cost you less, open the site to everyone, and be search engine friendly.”
As of an ADA ruling in 2010:
By March 15, 2012, all businesses serving the public, store front or web, must meet ADA accessibility guidelines.
Failure to comply could result in fines up to or exceeding $100,000.
A brief and incomplete list of companies sued in the past few years for not meeting accessibility standards on the web:
- Southwest Airlines
- International Olympics Committee (Sydney, Australia)
- MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Transportation)
- Attorney General, State of Connecticut (inaccessible online tax forms)
- Berkeley University
- John Marshall Law School
The acronym “P.O.U.R.” means Perceivable, Operable, Understanding, and Robust, the key elements in developing an accessible website as explained by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines ( WCAG ) 2.0.
Accessibility Associations and US Government Resources
The following list features agencies involved in creating legislature and offering support services for accessibility, in buildings, businesses, communities, and the web. While they may not represent the policies and laws in your community, in fact they might be weaker, the United States has followed closely the aggressive policies of other countries and now others are following their example. For some of the strongest laws on accessibility rights for everyone, including the disabled, check the laws in Canada and Britain.
While some of the following groups were created as part of the US Government’s Equal Opportunity and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), these and others are often volunteer run and supported and they need your help. From helping to create and support policy to simple fact, grammar, and rest checking across the website. One of the tasks most in need of help is cross checking all of their resource link lists. Many are years out of date with links to dead pages and closed projects, and many new projects aren’t listed. Please consider volunteering some of your time to help these groups improve their online resources, and please spread the word about the services they offer to your readers.
- US Government: Accessibility Section 508 (web accessibility)
- WebAIM: United States Laws – Overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- ADA – Information and Technical Assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act
- ADA Americans with Disabilities Act Organization
- Disability.gov: Connecting the Disability Community to Information & Opportunities
- Northwest ADA Center
- Accessible Digital Media Guidelines / Educational Policies and Standards / NCAM
Web design and accessibility specific groups working on moving the web forward with accessibility standards in place include:
- W3C HTML Working Group
- The Web Standards Project
- HTML Accessibility Task Force
- Protocols and Formats Working Group (PFWG)
Tools and Resources for Validation, Testing, and Developing Accessible Websites
There are many tools on the web, free and commercial, for testing and validating websites for accessibility standards. Some of these are woefully out of date, developed by grant programs or volunteers. With the impending deadline, new and/or updates to these need to be in place to help the web designer test their site designs and code. WHDb created the 100 Killer Web Accessibility Resources: Blogs, Forums and Tutorials List which offers an extensive list of tools and resources as of 2008. There are also many add-ons for web browsers with validation and testing capabilities that I have not listed here.
The following are the ones I talked about in my presentation and are fairly up-to-date but not necessarily HTML5 or CSS3 ready. I’ve noted the ones that are below.
- AnyBrowser.com – Browser Compatibility Verification
- The W3C Markup Validation Service (HTML5 experimental testing)
- W3 Nu Markup Validation Service – W3C (HTML 5)
- Site Check: Website Test – UITest.com
- Lynx Viewer
- Readability index calculator
- Vischeck: About Vischeck
- WAVE – Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool
- HTML 5 Outliner
- HTML5 Demos and Examples
- Validator.nu (HTML5)
- HTML5 accessibility
- Universal Subtitles – Make subtitles, translations, and captions for almost any video.
- W3C cheatsheet
- Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools: Overview
- Total Validator
Articles on ADA Standards for Web Design
With the impending deadline, web designers are starting to sit up and take note, but leaders in the web design and accessibility fields have been talking about this for a while. So learn from their thoughts, experiences, and expertise to help you transition to meet the new rules next year.
- A third way to write and validate forms – HTML5 | cssgallery.info
- WAI-ARIA — HTML5: Edition for Web Authors
- Web Forms – Dive Into HTML5
- Website Accessibility is Now Getting Serious in the USA « Lorelle on WordPress
- How to Build Cross-Browser HTML5 Forms | Nettuts+
- The Pragmatic Bookshelf | PragPub 2010-10 | HTML5: Accessibility For All
- The shortcomings of HTML5
- WebAIM: Blog – Future Web Accessibility: HTML5 Extensions
- Accessibility at Google IO 2011 | Web Axe – Practical Web Design Accessibility Tips – Podcast and Blog
- The Current State of HTML5 Forms · Wufoo
- HTML5, ARIA Roles, and Screen Readers in March 2011 | Research | Accessible Culture
- HTML5, ARIA Roles, and Screen Readers in May 2010 | Research | Accessible Culture
- A List Apart – Web Accessibility and UK Law: Telling It Like It Is
- Judge suggests USA Web Sites must be ADA Complaint
- Is Your Site ADA-Compliant … or a Lawsuit-in-Waiting?
- Justice Department Reaches ADA Settlement to Make Law School Application Processes Accessible to Blind Applicants
- HTML5 Accessibility Chops: the alt decision | The Paciello Group Blog
- HTML5 Accessibility Chops: ARIA & validation | The Paciello Group Blog
- Web Teacher › ARIA Roles 101 (HTML5)
- Understanding HTML5 Validation – Assistive Technology Group
- Assistive Technology U: Breaking Down Barriers for the Disabled | University Business Magazine
- Pushing ADA Beyond the Limits | University Business Magazine
- Removing Educational Roadblocks for Disabled Veterans | University Business Magazine
- Digital inclusion: the benefits of better web accessibility | Media Network | The Guardian
This is not a complete list. If you have some links and references you would like to see added to this list, let me know!