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Confusion Reigns Over Accessibility Compliance

From: Michael R. Burks <mburks952@worldnet.att.net>
Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2001 10:49:16 -0400
To: "WAI IG" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <NEBBJFEIALPLCLHAPJAIKEBKDFAA.mburks952@worldnet.att.net>

I think people have forgotten that 508 only applies to things purchased for
developed AFTER June 21.  We need to get that word out and the GSA needs to
get it out as well.


Mike  Burks

Confusion Reigns Over Accessibility Compliance

 By Karen Robb
April 18, 2001


Confusion over a law requiring that agency computer systems be usable by
people with disabilities is leading some federal offices to consider
shutting down Web sites that do not comply.

On April 11, the General Services Administration's office of
governmentwide policy issued an internal warning that Web sites that
cannot be used by people with disabilities would be shut down by June
14. That threat was retracted soon afterward.

But other federal offices are considering similar drastic measures with
the approach of a June 21 deadline for agencies to make their computers
and Web sites usable for people with a wide variety of disabilities.
Agencies must do this under section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.

"Agencies have thousands of inaccessible Web pages," said one federal
Web master, who asked not to be named. "Web masters are taking pages
down because they are terrified they will be sued if they do not make
them compliant in time."

Joseph McKay, chief information officer at the General Services
Administration's office of governmentwide policy, told Web managers in
an April 11 e-mail obtained by the Federal Times that all Web sites not
compliant with standards for accessibility for people with disabilities
will be removed from the Web. "Any Web sites that are not Section 508
compliant will go dark after June 14, 2001," a week before the deadline,
the e-mail said.

Section 508 is a 1998 amendment to the 1973 Rehabilita- tion Act that
requires agencies to buy computers and other office equipment that can
accommodate people with disabilities. Agencies that do not, the law
says, will be vulnerable to lawsuits.

But some experts say agencies have misunderstood the law.

"Pre-existing Web sites do not have to meet Section 508 standards," said
Doug Wakefield, information technology access specialist at the
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, known as the
Access Board.

Only Web sites launched or substantially redesigned after June 21 must
be compliant with Section 508, Wakefield said.

"Older sites must offer an alternative way for the disabled to get the
information on the site, but the Rehabilitation Act has required that
before Web sites even existed," Wakefield said.

Mary Lou Mobley, trial attorney for the Justice Department, agreed with
Wakefield's assessment.

"Agencies should make their older pages accessible when they can,"
Mobley said in a statement to the Federal Times. "When they cannot, they
should, at the very least, provide an easy way for people to ask for the
information that is contained in those inaccessible pages, such as a
toll-free telephone number or an e-mail address."

Wakefield is concerned that agencies' overreaction to the law may leave
people with disabilities with less access to information then they have

"No Web site is 100 percent inaccessible," he said. "Even information
contained on the worst designed Web page is better than no information
at all."

GSA's office of governmentwide policy does not intend to remove
information from its Web sites, said John Sindelar, deputy associate
administrator of governmentwide policy in an interview with the Federal
Times. "We have a contractor working full time to make sure we are done
in time," Sindelar said.

He said McKay's e-mail was worded strongly to motivate people to remove
outdated material from the Web.

"We wanted to light a fire under the Web managers," said Sindelar. "We
have some pretty prolific people who have posted 60-page Power Point
presentations that are a year out of date. We want people to get rid of
that kind of stuff."

In an April 12 e-mail to his staff, Sindelar clarified the Web policy.
"We are not eliminating content for the sake of meeting 508 requirements
by June 21," said the e-mail, which was obtained by the Federal Times.
"We fully expect and are making a significant investment to ensure none
of our Web pages go dark."

There is still a danger that Web masters who misunderstand the law's
requirements will remove valuable information, said a member of
Sindelar's staff who asked not to be identified.

"Everything that has come out so far is very confusing and
contradictory. We need the administration to issue some clear guidance,"
the employee said.
Received on Thursday, 19 April 2001 10:52:16 UTC

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