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lynx-dev ADA starts biting

From: Philip Webb
Subject: lynx-dev ADA starts biting
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2000 02:24:45 -0400

Washington Post 000824

Agencies Act to Ease Internet Use by Disabled -- Carrie Johnson
For Ginny Finch, a visit to the Internet can turn painful in a few seconds.
   The charts and photos and whiz-bang graphics that designers are paid
   so much to deliver make Finch, a marketing specialist at the Federal
   Highway Administration, recoil. She is legally blind, and though at
   work she uses a computer monitor that is nearly two feet wide, many
   destinations on the World Wide Web still feel remote, if not jarring,
   to her eyes.
   "I often avoid getting on the Internet because it's just too
   difficult," said Finch.
   In the next few months, the federal government is expected to make
   parts of the Web less cumbersome for Finch and others with
   disabilities. The changes, long awaited by advocates for the disabled,
   will apply to Web sites, software programs and other technology
   products prepared by federal agencies for the public or their own
   The new accessibility standards have been in the works since 1998,
   when Congress reauthorized and amended the Rehabilitation Act, making
   the mandate more explicit. After two years of study and comment by
   disability rights groups, government entities and businesses, the
   changes are likely to take effect by the middle of next year –
   six months after they are publicly released.
   But government projects, which require months or even years of
   planning, already are beginning to reflect the new goals. And federal
   agencies are scrambling to ensure that not only their Web sites, but
   also the internal software programs they use, are disability-friendly.
   "Most IT [information technology] managers know they've got to do
   this, and they're trying to," said Diana Hynek, who coordinates the
   effort at the Commerce Department. Hynek said Commerce is first
   revamping its Web sites rather than the systems it uses in-house,
   because the Web sites represent the "public face" of the agency.
   The standards are likely to have a ripple effect on private
   businesses, because the federal government is the largest purchaser of
   information technology in the country, spending more than $38 billion
   this year, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Companies
   that win government contracts will need to make those tech products
   accessible to comply with the Rehabilitation Act.
   Government estimates for the cost of revamping federal Web sites and
   other technology to comply with the new standards range wildly, from
   $85 million to $691 million, according to the Architectural and
   Transportation Barriers Compliance Board.
   Yet sites built from scratch or those that are redesigned will not
   incur many new costs, said Judy Brewer, director of the Web
   Accessibility Initiative at the World Wide Web Consortium, an
   international organization that sets Internet standards.
   "If you've got a small site or a simple site, there's very little
   you've got to do to make the site accessible," said Brewer.
   Retooling sites filled with data-heavy charts and large graphics and
   making changes to intricate software programs, however, could be a
   costly enterprise.
   Just as federal buildings boast ramps for people in wheelchairs,
   government Web sites soon must offer alternatives for people who
   cannot see multi-tiered charts or hear online interviews with agency
   leaders. Many blind people use electronic devices that read aloud text
   and captions that appear on a computer screen. But the screen readers
   can stumble over pictures and graphics, as well as links to other
   parts of the site.
   To solve the problem, programmers will need to create "text only"
   versions of Web sites or to better explain in words the information
   that charts and photos convey. They'll also need to break up unwieldy
   tables filled with government statistics into bite-sized chunks of
   information. Streaming video excerpts will require captions for the
   The issue of access to the Internet for disabled users has picked up
   steam in recent months, as President Clinton celebrated the 10th
   anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in July.
   Under the new Rehabilitation Act standards, people who are
   dissatisfied with agency efforts to achieve IT accessibility can file
   lawsuits or lodge administrative complaints with federal agencies.
   Jennifer Mechem, a disability policy coordinator in the Education
   Department's office of management, said her agency has been moving
   toward accessible software for three years. She said Education is not
   paying extra for software, but leaders there are spending more time on
   accessibility issues.
   "The cycle of IT is so quick that we're going to be using different
   software in two or three years anyway," Mechem said.

SUPPORT     ___________//___,  Philip Webb : address@hidden
ELECTRIC   /] [] [] [] [] []|  Centre for Urban & Community Studies
TRANSIT    `-O----------O---'  University of Toronto

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