media:Fw: Web Usability, accessibility closely related

----- Original Message -----
From: "Kelly Pierce" <kelly@RIPCO.COM>
Sent: January 11, 2001 9:49 PM
Subject: Web Usability, accessibility closely related

Federal Computer Week

Usability, accessibility closely related
FCW's Dot-Gov Thursday column
COLUMN BY Beth Archibald Tang
Designing government Web sites has surfaced as the issue du jour in
light of
the recent release of the final standards for complying with Section
508 of
the Rehabilitation Act.
The Access Board published the Section 508 standards Dec. 21, guiding
agencies on making federal Web sites accessible to people with
It will be interesting to see if guides will be developed to write
HTML code
in accordance with the new accessibility regulations. At the press
event and
subsequent training sessions I've attended, actual examples of
implementation have been deftly skirted.
Regrettably, the practice of accessibility - and its sister,
usability - may
not be the primary concern of organizations and agencies in the rush
to make
Web sites active. Whether through ignorance or anxiousness, intuitive
navigation has taken a backseat to show-offy, bandwidth-draining
Quite a few agencies came online only within the past couple of years,
so it
would seem that the final Section 508 regulations are just in time in
respect: I recently read that it takes about three years before an
organization becomes concerned with "higher level" interests such as
I've seen instances where user testing was "saved" until the last two
or so before a site was to go live. In those instances, the testing
really more to check for misspellings and broken links than for such
higher-order concerns as intuitive navigation and appropriate naming
navigation elements.
We can learn a lot about Web site usability and accessibility from the
comments of others. A lively interchange took place recently among the
Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative discussion group.
General Services Administration has presented 13 rules for accessible
pages. And further explanations and examples can be found in
"Designing More
Usable Web Sites," from the Trace Research and Development Center,
part of
the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"How Should Government Web Sites Be Designed?" is a topic tackled in a
thread at the Slashdot Web site. The threaded discussion yielded some
tips, which I've excerpted and extrapolated:
* Manage presentation and layout with style sheets. You'll never be
able to
control how your Web page looks in your users' browsers. The best you
can do
is to make sure you test in the standard browser types and versions
and make
sure that the site is equally good (not the same) in all formats.
* Do not use color to guide users through information.
* If specifying font size, do so only relatively (for example,
* Expand upon acronyms as they first appear on a page.
* Provide more than one way to display content, mixing text files,
Document Format files, audio files with transcripts, and video with
closed-captioning and/or a transcript.
* Limit use of nested tables and omit the use of blank images in
* Use alt tags to describe an image, and if the image is a link, use
the alt
tag to describe what the link does.
* Consider people who have difficulty reading. Use plain English and
images in a way that will help point users to the information they are
looking for. Remember that text-only format can be a barrier for
people with
cognitive disabilities.
Some more tips I've encountered:
* Path names and file names should make sense.
* Give thought to well-written title tags. When your site is
users should be able to figure out what your site is without having to
their bookmarks.
Further "higher level" suggestions for government Web sites can be
found in
Steven Clift's article, "Top Ten E-Democracy 'To Do List' for
Around the World." Clift emphasizes consideration of the user,
that "most citizens simply want better, more efficient access to
transactions and information ... your agency produces."
Tang is a Web designer in the Information Technology Group at Caliber
Associates, Fairfax, Va. Her e-mail address is

Copyright 2000 FCW Government Technology Group

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Received on Friday, 12 January 2001 09:02:30 UTC