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Another Mainstream Article on Accessibility

From: Bruce Bailey <bbailey@clark.net>
Date: Mon, 20 Dec 1999 12:03:57 -0500
Message-ID: <01BF4AE4.AE201400.bbailey@clark.net>
To: "'Web Accessibility Initiative'" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Cc: "'kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us'" <kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us>
Dear WAI Interest Group,

Another mainstream article on accessibility.  From this months "first 
person" column in civic.com "the magazine for it professionals in state and 
local government".  "Make the Internet Accessible for All" by Kathleen 
Anderson.  Subtitled <Q>Connecticut Webmaster calls for more "welcome'' 
sites.</Q>  I first saw this in print but, of course, there is an on-line 
version at URL:

I like the article very much.  I am sorry I did not offer a similar piece 
before Kathleen took the initiative.  In truth, she did a much better job 
than I would have!  I was disappoint that the article does not mention HWG 
AWARE, Trace's world/web resources, nor the W3C WAI or WCAG.  Bobby and the 
W3C validator, however, are only a couple of clicks from the official State 
of Connecticut (http://www.state.ct.us/) home page, and there is plenty of 
information if one goes looking for it.

I hope Kathleen (and the other members of the ConneCT Management Advisory 
Committee Web Site Accessibility Subcommittee) will not be too disappointed 
about not achieving their goal <Q>to make ConneCT, Connecticut's Web Site, 
the <em>first</em> universally accessible state government Web site in the 
country</Q> (emphasis added).  The official State of Maryland pages may not 
offer detailed reference listings regarding universal design, but our pages 
have been accessible (and still are) since they first went online in 1994! 
 Check out URLs:
http://www.sailor.lib.md.us/ and http://www.mec.state.md.us/ (your only two 
choices if you try going to http://www.state.md.us/).

I wish I could take some credit for this fine state of affairs, but I 
really can't!  Sailor evolved from a text-only system, and still offers 
toll-free (in Maryland) dial-up text-only Internet browsing.  In general, 
Maryland government has a good level of awareness and understanding (which 
is something I do help with a little) of the needs and requirements of 
persons with disabilities.  This pretty much keeps universal design on the 
drawing board, even with new projects.  (Check out "eMaryland" at 
http://www.techmd.state.md.us for an example of brand new site that is 
accessible -- despite the fact that I had nothing to do with it!)

Full text of article follows.

Bruce Bailey
Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Rehabilitation Services

Make the Internet Accessible for All
By Kathleen Anderson 

The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990, requires that government provide individuals with disabilities access to public places. If you take a walk around your state or local government complex, school or library, you'll see new ramps, wider doorways, new elevators and Braille signs where needed. All of these allow--even invite--everyone in.

As the Internet approaches its 30th birthday, we are rapidly making it a place of public accommodation. We are transacting business on the World Wide Web. Permit applications, license renewals, e-mail and requests for proposals. State and local governments that used to print all their publications on paper are publishing them on the Web. But if we are making these major transformations to the way we conduct business, and doing so with taxpayer money, we must make sure everyone can participate. 

Our new place of business must not only be accessible, it must say, "Welcome."

Take a "walk" around your agency's Web site. But first, put your mouse away. Can you navigate your site without it? Some people can't use a mouse. People with limited or no physical mobility use a keyboard or voice input; those who are blind or visually impaired use a keyboard or voice input in combination with a text screen reader. 

Try accessing your site with your browser's graphics turned off. Is your site still as effective and informative? Many of your visitors turn graphics off because of slow modem speeds or low-end processors in their PCs; other users do this because they are more interested in your content than your presentation. 

A Web site that can't be navigated without a mouse, or is useless without the graphics or doesn't have enough information in text format, will lock people out of your place of business. I read an e-mail message a couple of years ago written by a woman whose husband was blind. She spoke about how, in the early days of the Internet, it was a wonderful place for her husband. It was all text-based and universally accessible. Now, it's a world of images, clicks, online forms, marquees, blinking text and music, all of which can be obstacles to accessibility.

I can hear Web designers and graphic artists saying, "But what about my photographs, logos and maps?" Making a Web site accessible does not have to stifle its artistic presentation or professional look. The design and presentation will not suffer if you follow one simple rule: Create your site with text-only pages first. When you are sure that it is complete and accessible, then add the images and other design touches. Your site then will be accessible to everyone.

Connecticut's policy is to ensure that people with hearing, visual and other disabilities have equal access to public information that is available on the Internet and the Web. We have followed that policy in designing and maintaining the Web site of the state comptroller, Nancy Wyman.

To implement that policy at the state government level, we have formed a work group focusing on Web site accessibility education and outreach to all state agencies and municipalities. The goal of the ConneCT Management Advisory Committee (CMAC) Web Site Accessibility Subcommittee (www.cmac.state.ct.us/access) is to make ConneCT, Connecticut's Web Site, the first universally accessible state government Web site in the country. 

Don't get me wrong--I love the Internet. The opportunities it is giving government to improve the way we do things is tremendous. But we need to be planning our Web sites with the ramps, curb cuts and wider doors already built in instead of trying to fit them in after the fact. Let's do it right the first time. 

-- Kathleen Anderson is a Webmaster in Connecticut's Office of the State Comptroller and chairwoman of the CMAC Web Site Accessibility Subcommittee. She can be reached at kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us or (860) 702-3355.
Received on Monday, 20 December 1999 12:22:37 UTC

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