Thursday, June 8

Article on Website Accessibility

Greetings. The following article only illustrates that we will continue to see problems with website accessibility until websites are accepted as a "place of public accommodation" as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). Granted, the ADA came out before the Web, but if a website is not accessible/usable for me, then I'm being locked out and denied access to it. Even though there are many sites that might not seem like they would be of much concern to me as far as access goes, such as a photography site, Target is definitely not one of those. Read on and discover what's going on, why the blind are prevented from access to some sites, and what the future might hold. For the record, Southwest Airlines faced a similar situation several years ago, as far as their site not being accessible to the blind. In the end, the case was dismissed and there was no favorable result as far as accessibility.

May 08, 2006
(Computerworld) --
Bruce Sexton Jr. wants to be able to access the same Web content that anyone
else can. Because he can't, he now finds himself at the center of a
precedent-setting legal fight over Web site accessibility.
Bruce Sexton Jr.
Bruce Sexton Jr.

Sexton, who is legally blind, relies on software that reads his PC's screen
from left to right and top to bottom, skipping ahead when he uses
shortcuts. When he visits Target Corp.'s Web site, a robotic voice announces
staccato-style the presence of alternative text to describe images of the
retailer's logo and its "Target dog" mascot.

But the screen-reader software doesn't read the weekly list of special
offers on Target's Web site, Sexton said. He can't tell whether the numbers
he hears
on other parts of the home page correspond to products, files or something
else. Deeper into the site, he doesn't know which item goes with which
"It's difficult to find anything," Sexton said. As a result, he no longer
tries to buy goods from the Target site, which for a long time he couldn't
anyway because, he said, it required the use of a mouse.

Sexton has joined the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) as a plaintiff
in a lawsuit that charges Target with violating the federal Americans With
Act (ADA) and California's Unruh Civil Rights Act and Disabled Persons Act.

The lawsuit, scheduled for a hearing next month at U.S. District Court in
San Francisco, could have a broad impact because Target's site is hardly the
one that could be accused of having access barriers, according to attorneys
for the plaintiffs.

Web 2.0 Challenge

The move from text-based to visually oriented Web content has been tough on
the blind, and now there's a new threat on the horizon. The shift to dynamic
"Web 2.0" technology, which Gartner Inc. predicts will be pervasive by the
end of next year, could exacerbate the problem of inaccessible sites.

A Web 2.0 application might make use of Asynchronous JavaScript and XML
(AJAX) and Dynamic HTML to update information in a table without having to
an entire Web page. But screen readers, magnifiers and other assistive
technology may not know which parts of the page have changed unless
developers take
steps to make sure the tools can glean that information.

Jeff Bishop, an application systems analyst at the University of Arizona in
Jeff Bishop, an application systems analyst at the University of Arizona in

"It's very, very, very scary," said Jeff Bishop, an application systems
analyst at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "Before, so what? You had a
[alternative-text] tag, but at least you knew there was an image. You could
click on it, and maybe you could figure out what it was. Now, you don't even
know where to click. You don't know how to interact."

Bishop, who is blind, and other advocates for people with disabilities
aren't expecting an immediate fix. "We want to make sure companies are at
least hearing
what our concerns are," he said. "I'm not looking for a solution tomorrow.
Even if it takes two years, that's fine with me, as long as I know they're
on it."

But it's unclear whether many companies are doing so.

IBM, joined by other vendors, is leading a dynamic accessible Web content
initiative within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). One proposal outlines
development syntax for mapping information about the elements of Web
applications to an operating system's accessibility API so screen readers
and other
assistive technology will know what has changed on a Web page. A second
proposal details the means for adding semantic role information to a Web
so screen readers can identify rich objects, such as menus and tab panels,
on pages.

But the proposals are still in draft form, and adoption remains uncertain.
The Mozilla Foundation added support for the technology starting with its
1.5 browser. Microsoft Corp., however, has said its upcoming Internet
Explorer 7.0 release won't support it, and the company has made no
commitments for
future editions of the browser.

Gartner analyst Ray Valdes has found that Fortune 500 companies have a very
low level of awareness about making their public Web sites accessible. Most
haven't modified their Web design and production methods and aren't thinking
about fixing their current sites because they assume that doing so would be
too costly, he said. They also haven't bothered to buy tools that could help
them improve accessibility, Valdes said.

The W3C released accessibility guidelines for Web authoring tools more than
six years ago, and it isn't aware of a single product that is fully
said Judy Brewer, director of the consortium's Web accessibility initiative.
But Brewer added that many of the newer authoring tools do have features
provide more support for producing accessible content. "And users should
demand even better," she said.

Slow Demand

There are also evaluation tools that can assess a Web site's accessibility.
One of the leading vendors of evaluation tools, Watchfire Corp., has no more
than 70 U.S.-based corporate customers and 30 international users, largely
from the governmental and financial sectors, for its enterprise-grade tool,
according to Mike Weider, the Waltham, Mass.-based company's chief
technology officer.

"We've long expected the accessibility market to grow more than it has. It
really hasn't taken off," Weider said. But the NFB-Target case could change
he added.

The allegations made against Target by the NFB and Sexton have set the stage
for a court showdown that could finally clear up the murky legal question of
whether the ADA, which was enacted in 1990, before the dawn of the Internet
era, applies to Web sites.

The lawsuit claims that because Target's site is difficult if not impossible
for the blind to use, the retailer is denying them equal access to the goods
and services it provides to customers without disabilities. The NFB this
week plans to file a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the court
order Target to make its Web site accessible promptly.

Target two weeks ago updated a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the
laws in question don't apply to Web sites because they aren't "physical"
of public accommodation. The Minneapolis-based retailer further claimed that
applying the California statutes to its Web site, which is accessible to
countrywide, would violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Mazen Basrawi, a lawyer at Berkeley, Calif.-based Disability Rights
Advocates, a co-counsel for the plaintiffs, contended that the ADA applies
to any public
place where commercial activity occurs -- including Web sites. And even if
the law didn't provide such blanket coverage, it would apply to Target's
is integrated with the retailer's brick-and-mortar
stores, Basrawi said.

Secil Watson, senior vice president of customer experience for the Internet
services group at Wells Fargo & Co., said a good time for a company to think
about making its site accessible is when it's planning a major redesign.
It's "the right thing to do," she said.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo four years ago began its accessibility push
for people who are blind or visually impaired by making improvements to its
most popular pages. But Watson said it was a major restructuring a year
later that produced the most critical improvement: template-based pages that
to enforce design and development consistency. "What was good for the people
with disabilities was good for everybody," she said.

Wells Fargo used the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), but
Watson said the Web team didn't stop there. It added site-specific details
the more general WCAG directive and created a training document for the
company's designers and developers to apply to both internal and external

In addition, some of the bank's user-interface designers have been trained
in the use of screen readers so they can see the bank's external site from
perspective of a blind customer. "We're not just trying to make the site
accessible," Watson said. "We're trying to make it a decent experience."

Like other companies, Wells Fargo is interested in exploring the use of
DHTML and AJAX to create Web-based applications that could offer an even
online experience to end users. But Watson said that first the bank will
have to figure out how to make the new technologies accessible.

Finding the Time

Nate Koechley, a senior front-end engineer at Yahoo Inc., which has already
taken the AJAX and DHTML plunge, said learning to build accessibility
into applications developed with those technologies is mostly an issue of
finding enough time, given the intense, almost frantic atmosphere of Web
"Preserving and enriching accessibility is just another constraint of Web
design and engineering," he said.

Koechley added that the development team at Yahoo has a great in-house
resource -- Victor Tsaran, the company's accessibility program manager, who
is blind
himself. "Now we can go over to his cube and say, 'Hey, does this work for
you? Check it out,' " Koechley said.

Mike Paciello, founder of The Paciello Group LLP, a Nashua, N.H.-based
consulting firm that works to enhance the accessibility of software, said he
is optimistic
that the process of making applications accessible won't lag with
technologies like AJAX and DHTML to the degree that it has with other
technologies in
the past.

"Technology that supports people with disabilities is so far behind," he
said. "Whenever they start to get caught up, they get thrown back another
steps. [But] with AJAX, I don't think it will be five steps back because we
already have a handle on it. We're probably one or two steps back."

For Paciello, the lack of a dynamic leader to raise awareness about the need
for increased accessibility remains the larger problem.

And there's still much more work to be done, according to advocates for
people with disabilities. Sexton, for one, said that he still can spend
hours trying
to figure out whether a Web site is just difficult to navigate or not
accessible at all.

"It's frustrates me to no end," he said, "and it makes me feel that I'm not
able to do something that everybody else can."

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