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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, AIDS.gov 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 AIDS.gov 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 AIDS.gov 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 AIDS.gov 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.


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very important info. we need more awareness programs in order to deal with HIV related issues

During a discussion today with a young lady who found my website through Google I was asked many questions about website building for the disabled. The young lady told me she was almost 100% blind yet gaining access to the internet was something she loved to do and was important to her. At first I thought she was pulling my leg but she was quite serious.

As you might imagine I had to ask her how she came to find my website if she can't see her computer screen. She went on to explain she has invested in a wonderful piece of software that I've never heard of before. The software apparently talks back to you when your mouse hovers over navigations and any hyper links telling you what they are. It also reads back words to you as you scroll over the website...well I never would have thought of such a thing. I still have trouble believing such a piece of software exists.

After the almost one hour call I put myself in the shoes of someone with partial blindness and asked myself "how could I use a website (or the internet for that matter) if I could barley see the computer screen?" Hmmm interesting question isn't it.

As there are many limits to accessing the web due to disabilities (apart from blindness) I think it's about time we as web designers need to decided a little time researching what we can do for those who are lesser privileged.

Since speaking with her I was compelled to research the topic which led me to this site. I've found very little information that I believe to be helpful however I'm looking forward to investigating all the related links on this site. Thank you for putting such information together as between the phone call and your information my eyes have truly been opened

Mark Briody
Sydney Australia

Mark, We appreciate your comment. Technologies, like screen readers, inspire all of us to do our jobs better. As evidenced by the young lady that found your website, they profoundly impact and improve people's lives. And as Steve Krugs points out, blind people with a computer can now read the newspaper on their own.

We'd also recommend this document that you can available online (for personal use only), "Guidelines for accessible and usable web sites: Observing users who work with screen readers: by Theofanos, M. F. and Redish, J. C., 2003

We look forward to hearing about what you find in researching this topic - and hope our resources are helpful.

Thank you,
AIDS.gov team

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