Make Federal and Private Sector Web Sites Accessible to the Disabled

 
 
By John Moore  |  Posted 2001-02-19
 
 
 

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) faced a dilemma when it sought to upgrade its Web site: how to make its Internet home information-rich, yet totally accessible.

The groups site was entirely text-based so that blind people equipped with braille displays, text-to-speech synthesizers, and other assistive devices could access information. But Carl Augusto, AFBs president and CEO, says the organization also wanted its site to incorporate state-of-the-art features, provide a wider range of information, and become more graphically appealing. Could AFB have it both ways?

AFB tapped Interliant, an application service provider, to rearchitect its site with the organizations dual requirements in mind. The result is a site that delivers the depth AFB wanted and complies with the World Wide Web Consortiums (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative. That initiative provides guidelines to help developers build Web sites that are accessible to people with disabilities.

AFB and Interliant now are using that Web experience to help other groups build accessible sites.

The first target is government agencies, which must comply with recently established accessibility rules. In December, the U.S. Access Board published accessibility standards for government sites. And last month, the government proposed adding those standards to the Federal Acquisition Regulation, which governs federal procurements (www.section508.gov/docs/FARCase1999-607.htm).

To get federal agencies moving toward compliance, Interliant and AFB are developing a knowledge base for building accessible sites, says Herb Hribar, Interliants president and CEO.

The knowledge base, which captures best practices for development, will eventually become an automated tool that lets developers diagnose and fix a sites accessibility problems.

Hribar says the tool will debut in the third quarter, adding that Interliant is seeking partners to help deploy the knowledge base in the field. In addition to the federal government, Hribar also plans to work with state and local governments and government contractors.

But Hribar and Augusto also want to get the accessibility message out to companies beyond the reach of government acquisition regs. "We want other companies to adopt accessibility as a standard in their Web sites," Augusto says.

Those that do will tap what for many will be an entirely new customer base. Hribar says accessibility "opens a market of 10 million Americans" who are blind or visually impaired. Augusto says that group, for the most part, has been shut out of e-commerce transactions.

Interested in accessibility? The AFB has tips for Web developers at its site (www.afb.org). Information on the W3Cs Web Accessibility Initiative is available at www.w3.org/WAI. In addition, industry is invited to attend an accessibility forum slated for April (http://adit.aticorp.org/kickoff/index.html). ADIT, an accessibility project launched by the General Services Administration, sponsors the forum.

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