Web Access for All - Page 2

: Costs and Case Studies">

The total cost of making a site adhere to 508/WAI guidelines is estimated at between $180,000 and $200,000, including testing and continuous monitoring, according to Meta Group Inc. research, while the cost of making accessibility part of a Web site design process will be about $45,000 to $50,000.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Web site was redesigned in 2001 with Section 508 in mind.

eWEEK Corporate Partner Robert Rosen, CIO at the institute, in Bethesda, Md., said this helped to rein in costs. "It was part of our Web site redesign, so we didnt break it out separately," said Rosen. "Since we designed with that in mind, the incremental cost wasnt great."

Sutter Health has also addressed accessibility concerns during its site redesign process.

As a health network comprising many affiliates, the Sutter Health corporate Web team is responsible for the look and feel of about 30 sites. Sutter Health has not yet adopted any formal accessibility rules, but it has made some significant changes in its most recent redesign.

"We added an enlarge the text feature on our sites, so someone with a problem reading our standard font size can enlarge it, in increments; this item is available on every subpage of our sites," said Judy Stokes, Sutter Health Web site manager, in Sacramento, Calif. "We also made alt text a requirement for all our images, so those who view a site without graphics will have explanatory text for the images."

A problem many organizations are facing is that Section 508 is just one of many requirements they must comply with—"compliance mania," as Meta analyst Jennifer Vollmer puts it.

"Companies are stretched to capacity because they have to deal with [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act], the Patriot Act, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act," said Vollmer, in Stamford, Conn.

"Companies are being forced to prioritize compliance, and my gut instinct is that accessibility isnt at the top of the list," she said.

That may change even for companies that dont have to comply with Section 508, as lawsuits are starting to pile up against organizations whose Web sites are deemed difficult to access by people with disabilities.

Last summer, for example, advocacy group Access Now Inc. and a blind individual filed a lawsuit against Southwest Airlines Co. The suit contended that the airline had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because its Web site was difficult to access by the blind.

Although U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz ruled in the airlines favor in October, she voiced surprise that a company as large as Southwest was not making things as easy as possible for all customers and potential customers.

At about the same time, a federal judge ruled that MARTA, or the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, actually had violated the ADA by constructing a Web site that was inaccessible to the sight-impaired. Plaintiffs in the case had complained about problems accessing schedule and route information.

The ADA does imply all domains, including the Internet, said Vollmer, but the act can be difficult to interpret. What its really going to take to spur companies to action, she said, is that one big lawsuit.

To avoid being a defendant in that one big lawsuit, companies should gauge their liability and responsibility and weigh the time spent to retrofit existing content and create accessible new content against the benefits of increased customer affinity and, yes, sales.

And that goes for external and internal customers (can all employees easily access all the information on your human resources intranet?), as well as for customers "challenged" through their use of mobile devices.

A PDA user, for example, will be just as stuck for information when a Flash application provides no alternative text as the sight-impaired person using a reader application.

Vollmer recommends that companies assign someone to be the equivalent of a chief accessibility officer and concentrate on new content rather than working to retrofit old content.

"Someone in the organization should take charge of accessibility and what the companys doing about it and then work with IT, HR and legal to form an accessibility board to come up with a strategy to move the company forward," Vollmer said. "Youre not going to get into trouble so much for old content, but make sure that as you progress, you follow guidelines and test with people with disabilities."

Bottom line: More and more people are doing business over the Web. Companies that want to make it as easy as possible for their internal and external customers to use the corporate Web site to research, buy and sell are building virtual access ramps to their sites as part of the Web development and upgrade cycle.

Companies that ignore the issue are ignoring potential customers and existing customer concerns and may be courting problems.

"Access has gotten sidelined," said Metas Vollmer. "I guess we know the reasons why, but that doesnt mean that it should be so. The problem of accessing Web sites isnt going away."

Executive Editor Debra Donston can be reached at debra_donston@ziffdavis.com.