Information access for all
- By Bill Piatt
- Jun 05, 2000
Innovative federal program managers have moved more than 100 million pages
of information onto the Internet during the past five years. Despite these
valiant efforts, information is still unnecessarily hard to find and use.
Why? Roughly 20,000 federal World Wide Web sites were constructed around
project, program and organizational stovepipes. They were built to serve
narrow communities without regard to the ease of search and retrieval.
To make matters worse, only 20 percent of the pages have proper meta
tag information — akin to an e-mail subject line — which is required by
many search engines to locate desired links.
The challenges faced by millions of Americans with vision or hearing
disabilities are even greater, according to a recent Justice Department
report. Vision-impaired individuals often rely on screen readers to describe
what is displayed. If graphics lack textual descriptors or if information
is presented by color only, the screen readers are ineffective. Audio clips,
likewise, require closed captioning for people with hearing impairments.
As for content, Web sites too often contain information of little value
to users. This is typically the result of inattention by the site owner
to maintaining the content or a lack of appreciation for what users may
want. If a site owner cannot find the necessary resources to maintain the
content, then the site is too big and should be consolidated or scaled back.
Stale, outdated and irrelevant content casts a shadow on the value of the
These issues are not difficult to address. They simply require time
and dedication. Faced with complying with Section 508 of the Workforce Investment
Act, which requires that we make Web sites and office equipment accessible
to disabled people, we have an excellent opportunity to dramatically improve
all of these areas. When one considers the current emphasis on electronic
government and seamless citizen access to information, the timing couldn't
So what should we do?
n Log on to the Section 508 home page (www.section508. gov) and become
familiar with the accessibility requirements for all federal Web sites.
Guidelines and useful tools for testing accessibility can be downloaded
from the site.
n Update inventories of all Web sites and develop a plan for bringing
them into full compliance with Section 508 requirements.
n Use this opportunity to consolidate sites and to purge outdated content,
dead links and Web pages that just require too much attention to keep current.
In true Internet fashion, rely on links to others' sites instead.
n Place meaningful descriptor information in the meta tags for every
single page. This will make finding information much easier for citizens,
stakeholders and fellow feds.
Performing this housekeeping will ensure that all Americans can access
the information agencies produce and publish with tax dollars. It also will
reduce the number of pages to be maintained. Most importantly, though, it
will prepare the foundation for building a seamless information portal that
can become the enabler of electronic government.
—Piatt is the chief information officer at the General Services Administration.