Applets and Plug-ins

Welcome to our free Web Accessibility and Section 508 tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Web Accessibility and Section 508 Training for Experienced Web Designers course.

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Applets and Plug-ins

Applets and Plug-ins

  • Access to the software for applets and plug-ins needs to be made available along with the content of your site
  • Applets and plug-ins need to be accessible by using the keyboard only

When your web page launches an applet or plug-in, people with disabilities must be able to access that software as well as other content of your web site.

When a Web page requires that an applet, plug-in or other application be present on the client system to interpret page content, the page must provide a link to a plug-in or applet that complies with points 1194.21(a) through (l).

The eleven provisions in paragraph 1192.21 are the Section 508 standards for software. §1194.22 (m) requires that the web author make sure that any applet or plug-in needed for content on his page is accessible as defined by those software standards.

From the Access Board final rule:

For example, web pages containing Real Audio almost always have a link to a source for the necessary player. This provision places a responsibility on the web page author to know that a compliant application exists, before requiring a plug-in.

So plug-ins and applets launched from your page are subject to the Section 508 standards for software. We are not going to go over those in detail because doing so would take as much time and technical material as we have seen already on web accessibility.

As an example, below is a screenshot of the Windows Media Player (2001) launched as a separate window: windows media player

As we discussed above for scripts, the first issue of those Section 508 software standards is that every function of the program has to be available from the keyboard, §1194.21(a), repeated here.

When software is designed to run on a system that has a keyboard, product functions shall be executable from a keyboard where the function itself or the result of performing a function can be discerned textually.

That does not mean that the Stop icon at the bottom of the Windows Media Player, shown above, has to be reachable using the keyboard. Instead, you must be able to activate the corresponding function using the keyboard.

In the case of Stop for the Windows Media Player, keyboard access is through a menu item, Play then Stop. Looking at that menu item we see also that Stop is readily accessible with the shortcut keys, Ctrl+S. Such shortcut keys are a crucial part of having access with the keyboard that is comparable to access with a mouse.

Windows Media Player is a good example of software being accessible with the keyboard, but not in the same way as a user uses the application with a mouse.

It is not just the main window that must be accessible, but also any dialog that the application brings up. Using the Windows Medial Player again, the options dialog (Tools / Options ) is a tab control which permits moving from page to page with Ctrl + Tab and moving within a page with the Tab key. Screenshot of Windows Media Player Options Dialog

The third and fourth requirements of the Section 508 Software Standards stipulate that assistive technology must be able to:

  1. Track the focus as the user tabs around a dialog.
  2. Determine what kind of object has focus.

Here is the Section 508 Software Standards wording of these two important items:

A well-defined on-screen indication of the current focus shall be provided that moves among interactive interface elements as the input focus changes. The focus shall be programmatically exposed so that assistive technology can track focus and focus changes.

Sufficient information about a user interface element including the identity, operation and state of the element shall be available to assistive technology. When an image represents a program element, the information conveyed by the image must also be available in text.

In the options dialog above, the focus is on the radio button (a screen reader needs to know that) with the text "once a day."

Since web authors are usually not writing the plug-in or applet, it becomes a question of whether the software conforms to Section 508 Software standards. If it does, then the applet or plug-in can be used, and the site will conform to Section 508. If it does not, then the author must find another way to present the content.


This tutorial is based on Webucator's Web Accessibility and Section 508 Training for Experienced Web Designers Course. We also offer many other Web Accessibility Training courses. Sign up today to get help from a live instructor.