The Universal Web

February 17, 2010 at 11:58 pm (Design Theory)

Our instructor in design theory had us listen to an interview about universal web design and accessibility with Wendy Chisholm, produced by our local public radio station KUOW. You can find a written transcript of this interview on Wendy’s blog.

As a web design instructor I am familiar with Wendy’s work and the principles of accessible web design. I was surprised that the law which dictates accessibility for the web and other electronic devices was not mentioned in the interview. Section 508 sets standards for accessibility. The Uk has a similar law called the DDA

(Section 508 requires that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, Federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.)

It is not to difficult to create a simple website that meets these standards. Use of alternate text for images and long descriptions for charts and info graphics are easily implemented when using software such as Dreamweaver to create web pages. Dreamweaver will ask for these properties as you ad your graphics. Another key point to accessible web design is the use of CSS to control the way your pages look and layout. This leaves pure HTML for a screen reader to use avoiding any extra use of HTML for actual design layout. Separating form from Function is the term we use. We used to use table in web layouts and screen readers would not read the page as intended. Now with CSS we can leave form to their intended use, information. For great examples of what CSS can do see the CSS Zen Garden Site.

When we think of accessibility for the web we often imagine the sight impaired users, what about other disabilities, such as cognitive disabilities. We also need to take these into account. A great article on this can be found here on the WebAIM site. As with any other business not allowing a person with disabilities to access the provided information is not just morally wrong in many cases it can be legally wrong.  The Target corporation recently settled a law suit brought on by disabled users.

A summary of the settlement

  • Target makes no admission or concession that its website is or ever was inaccessible.
  • Target admits no violations of the ADA or any other law.
  • The website will be brought into compliance with the Target Online Assistive Technology Guidelines (2MB Word Doc) and will be certified by NFB as compliant with these guidelines. NFB will monitor compliance over 3 years from initial certification.
  • Target will pay NFB $90,000 for the certification and first year of monitoring and then $40,000 per year thereafter.
  • Target’s web developers will receive at least one day of accessibility training, to be provided by NFB at a cost of up to $15,000 per session.
  • Target will respond to accessibility complaints from web site users.
  • Target will pay damages of $6,000,000 to the class action claimants, or at most $7000 per claimant, and will pay $20,000 to the California Center for the Blind on behalf of the primary claimant, Bruce Sexton, Jr.
  • Payment of legal fees is yet to be determined.

This should be a lesson to all web designers. Plan for accessibility.

A few of the many links on this topic.

About Accessibility.

http://www.webaim.org/
http://www.alistapart.com/articles/wiwa/
http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm
http://webdesign.about.com/od/accessibility/Web_Accessibility_Web_Usability.htm

Best practices and standards

http://www.nngroup.com/reports/accessibility/
http://www.w3.org/WAI/

Accessibility checkers run your site through these.

http://wave.webaim.org/
http://www.section508.info/

Blogs

http://justaddwater.dk/
http://www.isolani.co.uk/blog/access.html
http://blogs.msdn.com/accessibility/
http://ianpouncey.com/weblog/2010/01/web-accessibility-myths/

Technologies

http://www.afb.org/prodbrowsecatresults.asp?catid=49

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