Accessibility/Section 508

September 30, 2008


Catching up with Communities of Color: Online and New Media Use

Podcast of this blog post

In our last post on the United States Conference on AIDS Exit Disclaimer, we talked about a number of programs that are using new media to reach minority communities with HIV/AIDS information and resources. At the conference we heard about HIV/AIDS programs trying to be where many of their communities are: online and using new media. But is that where our target audiences really are? We wanted to get a clearer understanding of internet and new media use among communities of color. To learn more, we hosted a webinar, “Underserved Populations and New Media Use”.

We are grateful to our speakers, Fard Johnmar, Founder of Envision Solutions, LLC Exit Disclaimer, and Alejandro Garcia-Barbon, Senior Technical Advisor of IQ Solutions Exit Disclaimer and the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) Drugs + HIV> Learn the Link Campaign (more on this in next week’s post), who shared their knowledge and experiences with us and over 100 of our Federal colleagues and their grantees.

Is there a “digital divide”?

Fard Johnmar

Fard Johnmar, Founder, Envision Solutions

First of all, what do we mean by the digital divide? At, we’ve been using the following adaptation of Wikipedia’s “digital divideExit Disclaimer definition: “the gap between people with, and without, effective access to digital and information technology.” In this definition, access is different than effective access – for example, use of a slow dial-up Internet connection at a public computer is less effective than a high-speed Internet connection at home.

Fard told us there are several things we need to look at when considering who is online. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project Exit Disclaimer, 73% of all adults in the U.S. are using the Internet or e-mail. There is a gap between White (75%) and Black (59%) users of these technologies, but it has been decreasing over the past several years. Eighty percent of English-speaking Hispanic adults are using both technologies. And 90% of all adults ages 18-29 are using e-mail or the Web. If your target audience is youth, Black, White or Asian many are clearly Internet savvy.

So where do the biggest gaps in Internet use remain? There is a divide between Spanish-dominant Hispanic adults and other population groups, though 32% are online. As Fard showed us, the other important piece of the puzzle is the effective Internet access piece – and looking at access to high-speed Internet connection shows gaps based on income, race and location (rural vs. suburban or urban). Lack of access to high-speed Internet doesn’t mean people aren’t online, Fard cautioned us, but it might mean different populations use different new media tools in different ways.

High Speed Internet Use

How are communities of color using new media?

Fard shared statistics from eMarketer Exit Disclaimer that suggest African American and Hispanic adults are more likely to use certain new media technologies than Whites, such as social networking sites, online chat rooms, and instant messaging.

Online Social Networking and Communications Activities of US Internet Users, by Race/Ethnicity, March-April 2007 (% of respondents in each group)
  African American Hispanic Non-Hispanic white
Reading and writing e-mail 64% 66% 81%
Instant Messaging 45% 46% 36%
Visiting social networking sites 33% 32% 20%
Sending greeting cards 29% 31% 26%
Participating in chat rooms 22% 22% 10%

Note: n=1,038 African American, 766 Hispanic and 901 non-Hispanic white; ages 16+; activities done frequently or occasionally. Source: Yankelovich, "2007/2008 MONITOR Multicultural Marketing Study," provided to eMarketer, September 17, 2007

A study Exit Disclaimer by Envision Solutions found that 45% of Hispanics and 40% of Blacks as well as 37% of Whites had doubted a medical provider’s opinion or diagnosis because it conflicted with information they had read on the Internet. As Fard said “we know that people of color are not only going online to learn about health topics but they’re being influenced by information provided by what we call Dr. Web.” People are using the information they find online to make important decisions about their health – so we need to be there with good tools and information!

What’s an example of a program using new media to reach communities of color? Stay tuned!!

Alejandro Garcia-Barbon

Alejandro Garcia-Barbon, Senior Technical Advisor, IQ Solutions

Next week we’ll hear from Alejandro Garcia-Barbon, about his experiences implementing NIDA’s “Drugs + HIV> Learn the Link” Campaign. This campaign uses TV, print and online and radio public service announcements, posters, social network sites and other tools to send prevention messages specifically targeted to African American and Hispanic girls.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear about your experiences reaching communities of color and using new media tools to enhance your work.

April 22, 2008


Doing the Right Thing--508 Compliance

In our post last week, we talked about planning and putting people first before choosing new technology. We highlighted the POST Exit Disclaimer strategy which starts with:

P = People. Who is your target audience? What tools are they using?
We believe in putting people first, and that means our website content must be equally accessible to people with disabilities--some of whom have acquired their disabilities as a result of HIV/AIDS.

Recently, we learned that thousands of our Federal HIV websites are not always accessible to persons with disabilities, including more than one million legally blind, and 28 million deaf or hearing-impaired, citizens. Last week, sponsored a conference call for over 100 of our Federal colleagues to talk about making our websites "Section 508 compliant." (This refers to a law that requires Federal information in electronic formats to be accessible to all individuals with disabilities.)

During the call, we learned a lot from our Federal colleagues about the things we need to do to ensure our HIV/AIDS web pages are compliant, as well as some key information for those who receive Federal HIV/AIDS funding.

HIV/AIDS Webpages and 508
Jeremy Vanderlan from talked about his challenge in developing promotional materials. In using a screen reader that allows you to experience "reading" a document just as a visually impaired person would experience it, he noticed that the screen reader read the phrase ".gov" as "dot governor." To resolve the problem, Jeremy edited each ".gov" instance to "dot gov." "As you can imagine, if these are promotional documents for a dot gov website," Jeremy said, "there were quite a few references to this error."

Michael LaFlam commented after the call about the CDC's video podcast accessibility issues. "We had thought that, because we offered a transcript, we were meeting requirement standards," he said--something those of us at also had to learn. "We subsequently learned that we needed to make our podcasts open-captioned, which is different from closed-captioned, in that the text appears on the screen without user intervention." The CDC has to outsource the open-captioning process, which affects their production time-line and budget.

Kristen Kayatta, one of HHS's Section 508 experts, told those on the call that there are numerous 508 issues on HHS's 1.6 million Web pages. In fact, there's an average of 14 issues per Web page. That's a big job to fix, but Kristen said, "We have a five year plan ... we're well on our way." She explained 508 compliance to our Federal colleagues in this way:

" ... at the most basic level, [508 compliance] requires and ensures that all users have equal access to electronic documents. First, is the development of web pages. This means that all files must be machine-readable. All audio files need to have accompanying text and video files need to be captioned. Secondly, Section 508 applies to all electronic documents, including PDF files, Word files, and the PowerPoint files. And, lastly, this affects not only files that are posted on our site, but also those that are shared through e-mail, through portals, and that are saved on our share drives."

Kristen offered some resources to help everyone achieve 508 compliance:

  • HHS Section 508 Accessibility – This site includes information on Section 508, including: determining how the law applies, assistance in creating compliant documents and Web pages, information on standards and policies, how to gain access to 508 tools, and language to add to contracts to ensure all deliverables are 508 compliant.
  • We also recommend that you check out the resources discussed in our January 29, 2008 post on 508 compliance.
  • The U.S. Access Board's standards for Web-based Internet and intranet information and applications (36 CFR 1194.22) for documents (HTML, Word, etc.)--and don't forget the Access Board's standards for software, such as scripting or Flash.

Note to AIDS Service Providers
We all need to think about 508 issues for our Web pages, because, sooner or later, if you work with Federal programs, you are going to face this challenge. Federal agencies are required by law to be 508 compliant, and if you receive Federal funds for your work, you are required to consider accessibility, too. Federal contracts now require products to be 508 compliant, and soon, Federal grant proposals will also contain 508 requirements. In addition, state and local government activities are covered by other state laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bottom line? We need to be accessible, but we still have a lot to learn. HHS is working to ensure that our materials are accessible, but becoming accessible will be a process, not an event. The team would like to thank the speakers and participants from last Tuesday's call. Together we can meet our goal of doing the right thing in making all our materials accessible.

Do you have a section 508 challenge or success story? We'd love to hear about it!

You may download the transcript of the conference call in PDF (89.9K) or Microsoft Word (62.5K) format.

January 29, 2008


Information for All: 508 Compliance

In our previous post, we noted how proud we were of our video podcast series! And when we first started producing podcasts we thought they were accessible to everyone because we provided both an audio file and a transcript. But then we learned that our podcasts would have to be closed-captioned Exit Disclaimeras well.

This news was met with some resistance. "Why can't visitors with hearing impairments just read the podcast transcripts?", several team members wanted to know. "No one can read captions on an iPod!"

Our team didn't understand that we were limiting our audiences' access to the podcasts. According to the HHS website:

  • 28,000,000 (10% of population) are deaf or hearing impaired
  • 11,400,000 people have visual conditions not correctable by glasses
  • 6,400,000 new cases of eye disease occur each year
  • 2,800,000 people are visually handicapped from color blindness
  • 1,100,000 people are legally blind

In addition, as the population ages,the number of Americans who need assistance in accessing or processing information is growing

While we had worked to make accessible, our podcast experience uncovered that not all of our activities were Section 508 compliant. To learn more, we spoke with leading experts on accessibility: Eileen Elias, Deputy Director and 508 Coordinator for the HHS Office on Disability; Mark Urban, HHS Section 508 Specialist; and Jim Thatcher Exit Disclaimer, a leading private-sector consultant on 508 issues.

What is 508 compliance?
Mark explained, "Section 508 is a law that ensures that Federal information in electronic formats is accessible to all individuals with disabilities (including Federal employees and members of the public)." Eileen added, "It covers mobility, sensory, cognitive, and behavioral challenges, as well as challenges due to chronic medical disorders, such as HIV/AIDS."

That term, "508 compliant," refers to Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794d), which requires Federal agencies to:

  • Eliminate barriers in information technology;
  • Make available new opportunities for people with disabilities; and
  • Encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.

There are simple things that we can do to make our sites more accessible. For example, by adding text alternatives (alt tags Exit Disclaimer) to images, we allow people using screen readers to "read" the images on their screen.

Acronyms can also be problematic, but there are things we can do so that that words like "HIV" are pronounced H-I-V, rather than "hiv," which rhymes with "give." And we can code our sites so that users have the option to navigate by keyboard, rather than mouse or touch pad.

As Steve Krug Exit Disclaimer said in his book, Don't Make Me Think Exit Disclaimer, "How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people's lives just by doing our job a little better?"

How might Section 508 have reached/helped a person living with, or at risk for, HIV/AIDS?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs used alt tags when they created a great new Web-based tool on HIV medications. Now a visually challenged person living with HIV can use a screen reader to get information on specific drugs, dosing schedules, etc.

Accessibility also refers to providing information in a variety of formats. Mark told us of a person with an HIV-related illness who wanted to find information on his condition. "The problem was that he was bedridden, and he didn't have access to a computer. Thanks to an accessible NIH site, he was able to get the information he needed on his cell phone."

Is your website 508 compliant?
There are many online tools to help you identify accessibility issues:

In addition to the many free evaluation tools listed above, you may decide that a commercially available tool is best for your organization. At we use a commercial tool called Lift Machine Exit Disclaimer to test for Section 508 compliance. This tool is one of the many commercial website accessibility tools (others include WebXM Exit Disclaimer from Watchfire Exit Disclaimer and InFocus Exit Disclaimerfrom SSB Technologies) that will review each page of your website for problems and recommend solutions.

What resources are available for people who would like to learn more about Section 508?
We like to send our colleagues to the great resources (including the new HHS acquisition guidelines) at

In addition, our team members have found's 508 accessibility tutorial Exit Disclaimer helpful. Below are more resources from our colleagues:

A growing acceptance of the need
The team is now working with our colleagues to direct them to the resources highlighted above. HHS new guidance reinforces that all offices must comply with Section 508 and encourages others to review.

Mark reminds us that, "Section 508 compliance is a part of our responsibility as public health professionals. We serve people with diseases and conditions that are often accompanied by disabilities. It is consistent with our public health mission that we provide information and tools that are accessible."

There is still much to do to ensure access for all--but Eileen says, "We’re experiencing a slow decrease in resistance to 508 compliance and more and more understanding."

Please let us know your thoughts on this post! Stay tuned for next week's discussion of text messaging!

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