The accessibility fix is in

There are 27 million federal government pages on the Internet, and Section

508 of the Rehabilitation Act says they must be accessible to people with

disabilities by next spring or the agencies that posted them may be sued.

Besides producing a lot of anxious federal Webmasters and eager lawyers,

the situation is generating innovation by the California software maker

SSB Technologies Inc.

The company has produced two software programs that can scan Web pages,

determine whether they are accessible and tell page designers how to fix

any flaws. The programs are InSight, which diagnoses Web page problems,

and InFocus, which tells how to correct them.

According to SSB's technology chief, Timothy Springer, InFocus 2.0,

the latest version of the product, will provide Web page designers with

step-by-step instructions for correcting 62 of the most common accessibility

problems on Web pages.

By finding and suggesting fixes for faulty Web page elements, the software

can cut the time it takes to make pages compliant with Section 508 accessibility

standards by 75 percent, according to SSB.

Accessible Web pages are pages designed so that the information they contain

can be used by people with disabilities ranging from blindness and deafness

to limited dexterity and learning challenges.

SSB's software "shows you where in HTML code you've gone wrong and lets

you go in and try to fix it. It's a pretty nifty thing," said Curtis Chong,

a technology specialist at the National Federation of the Blind.

The software could be a substantial help to federal Web page designers

when the race to comply with Section 508 standards begins, said Doug Wakefield,

accessibility specialist for the federal Architectural and Transportation

Barriers Compliance Board. The board is writing the standards and expects

to publish them in early December, he said.

Once the standards are published in the Federal Register, government

agencies will have six months to come into compliance or be vulnerable to


"I'm glad to see something like [InFocus 2.0] developed," Wakefield

said. "I'd also like to see something like this developed to see if application

programs are compliant."

Learning to use InFocus and InSight requires a day of training, said

Doug Aley, an SSB spokesman. "The software is easy to use and intuitive."

Users can have InSight examine individual Web pages for noncompliant

features or let the program spider through an entire Web site to produce

an inventory of errors.

The most common faults are missing text descriptions to accompany graphic

elements, Springer said. To meet Section 508 requirements, page designers

must often add captions for pictures and spoken transcripts for videos and

written ones for audio segments, he said.

Web page designers tend to approach accessibility repairs with reluctance,

fearing that required changes will destroy the appearance of pages that

they labored to create, Springer said. "But nine times out of ten, with

a little training, you can make it look just like the old page," he said.

InFocus provides a feature that permits page designers to preview changes

before they become final.


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