Most of you are taking this course to learn what you must do to make your web pages accessible according to the Section 508 standards. In this introductory lesson we will discuss the significance of the Section 508 legislation and what it means for information technology to be accessible.
There have been many changes related to web accessibility and Section 508 since its inception. The Section 508 Standards are under revision now, and it may be some time before those Standards have the force of law. Assistive technology has dramatically improved, especially relating to navigation within pages and there are new technologies, such as Ajax, that create new challenges for assistice technologies.
We mentioned image maps briefly in an earlier lesson of this course when we were talking about adding alternative text to images. In this lesson we will discuss in more detail how image maps work and how to make them accessible.
Multimedia content on the Web, by its definition - including or involving the use of several media - would seem to be inherently accessible or easily made accessible.
However, if the information is audio, such as a RealAudio feed from a news conference or the proceedings in a courtroom, a person who is deaf or hard of hearing cannot access that content unless provision is made for a visual presentation of audio content. Similarly, if the content is pure video, a blind person or a person with severe vision loss will miss the message without the important information in the video being described.
Remember from an earlier lesson that to be compliant with Section 508, you must include text equivalents for all non-text content. Besides including alternative text for images and image map areas, you need to provide textual equivalents for audio and more generally for multimedia content.
Scripts, applets and plug-ins add dynamic content to the web.
Scripts are used for all aspects of web content. They can write all or some of the content of a page as it loads, or they can write hidden content to be displayed through some user interaction that, itself, can be implemented in scripts. Scripts are used to validate entries in forms and to add highlighting and other text effects.
Applets and plug-ins usually bring up new windows and offer essentially the same collection of accessibility concerns.
Style sheets fulfill the promise of separating presentation from content on the web because the visual presentation of a web page can be prescribed with style sheets while the content can rest in HTML. Although there are problems with browser implementation of CSS, style sheets are everywhere. When this course was originally written in 2000, the use of style sheets was fairly rare and <font> tags ruled. Not any more. CSS is everywhere.
Let's briefly review CSS and then address the accessibility issues.
This summary is focused on the sixteen standards for web accessibility written by the Access Board for Section 508 of the Workforce Reinvestment Act of 1998.
Beginning in June of 2001, all government web sites were required to conform to these standards. Any contractor doing web development for the Federal government must build web sites that conform to these standards. Any company doing business with the Federal government or with states receiving technical assistance funds (Tech Act states) would do best to put forth an accessible web presence.
For these and the numerous other reasons stated in Section 1, you'll want to follow these standards for your business.
The full set of Section 508 final standards is available on the Access Board web site. The specific standards for the web are in 1194.22 of that document entitled "Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications."
As of this writing (October 2007), the Section 508 Standards are being revised, but they probably will not be formalized and in effect for perhaps a year. There is an Access Board site that addresses the revision and a Wiki that is used by the Advisory Committee (TEITAC) drafting the revision.
Here is the summary of the standards: