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media:Fw: Fw: New standards for federal sites should apply everywhere

From: David Poehlman <poehlman1@home.com>
Date: Sun, 15 Jul 2001 12:40:11 -0400
Message-ID: <003301c10d4c$d187d460$2cf60141@mtgmry1.md.home.com>
To: "wai-ig list" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

----- Original Message -----
From: "David Poehlman" <poehlman1@HOME.COM>
To: <EASI@MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU>
Sent: Sunday, July 15, 2001 12:34 PM
Subject: Fw: New standards for federal sites should apply everywhere


February 1, 2001
e-Business Policy Watch

Web Access for All
New standards for federal sites should apply everywhere

By Doug Isenberg

For me, traveling with a laptop computer is like turning back the hands
of
Internet time. Instead of a high-speed DSL connection, I'm limited by a
slow
56K modem. As a result, I often turn graphics off in my browser. If I
don't
have to wait for pictures to download, I can get to information more
quickly.

Also, I often find myself using keyboard shortcuts on my laptop
whenever
possible. Though they're a poor substitute for a mouse, I've learned
that
these shortcuts are quicker than stumbling with an imprecise and tiny
pointing stick or a touch pad.

Still, the Web's full offerings cannot be enjoyed using my simple
tricks.
While I'm happy to miss out on flashy graphics, many Web sites use
graphic
elements to represent vital parts of a page, such as navigation. And
you
can't easily surf the Web without pointing and clicking.

But while I'm only slightly inconvenienced when I use my laptop, plenty
of
Web users are inconvenienced every day because their disabilities-such
as
visual and mobility impairments-prevent them from accessing everything
the
Web offers. Though assistive technologies such as screen-reading
software
help, many sites still employ elements that render them inaccessible to
the
disabled.

Fortunately, the U.S. government has recognized this dilemma and late
last
year declared that the Web sites of all federal departments and
agencies
must be at the forefront in ensuring access to electronic information.
The
Access Board, an independent federal agency devoted to accessibility
for
people with disabilities, issued standards that federal sites must meet
by
mid-2001. For example:

> Government Web sites must use a text equivalent where nontext elements
such as graphics are used so the blind will be able to access the
sites.

> Where color is used to identify screen elements or controls, the sites
must offer some other method of identification, such as text labels, so
people who are color-blind can use the sites.

> Scripts, applets, and plug-ins must be used carefully to ensure that
they
do not create elements that would be unintelligible to screen-readers.

These standards, and others set out in the Access Board's 30-page
report,
should go a long way toward opening the Web to a significant group of
users
who could (and should) greatly benefit from it.

But these new standards are a small step, because they apply only to
federal
government sites and not to the countless other sites we, the enabled,
rely
upon. As a lawyer, I may access more government sites than the average
user,
but I suspect that more than 99 percent of the Web pages I surf would
not be
subject to the Access Board's new standards.

There's an ongoing legal debate about whether the Americans with
Disabilities Act applies to the Internet. This 1990 law resulted in the
widespread implementation of such things as ramps and wide doors to
allow
wheelchair access in places of "public accommodation." If Web sites
were
deemed to be places of public accommodation, perhaps they, like
physical
sites, would also be legally required to provide access for the
disabled.

Of course, the consequences of such a legal interpretation could be
enormous. Which sites would be required to comply? Limiting the
application
to "commercial" sites would create uncertainty and still leave out many
vital sites. Setting a threshold based on a site's traffic or number of
pages could also be problematic.

But there's no need to wait and learn whether the law will require some
or
all private sector Web sites to incorporate accessibility elements for
the
disabled.  Many of the elements are easy to build in and would help not
only
the disabled but also those with low-speed and wireless connections.
Because
most Web publishers want to appeal to the largest audience possible,
there's
no reason not to create access-friendly sites today.

Doug Isenberg, an attorney, is the editor and publisher of
GigaLaw.com, a provider of legal information for Internet
professionals.
E-mail: disenberg@GigaLaw.com.
Received on Sunday, 15 July 2001 12:40:21 GMT

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