Web sites will put accessibility on display

When the June 21 deadline arrives for meeting the new accessibility standards,

the first places to draw notice likely will be federal government Web pages

and the online forms that enable e-government.

Most federal agencies began working last summer to bring their Web sites

into compliance, so substantial progress has been made. However, a significant

new requirement calls for interactive electronic forms to be usable by persons

with disabilities.

Electronic forms are an increasingly popular way for people to apply to

government agencies for services, benefits or jobs. But at present, interaction

between forms and screen readers can be "unpredictable," the Access Board

said.

Software maker Adobe Systems Inc. warned that some methods of making interactive

forms compatible with screen readers could pose security risks for users'

personal data.

The standards also require that Web page authors include links to special

add-on or "plug-in" programs that may make Web pages accessible. The requirement

is aimed at Web content such as multimedia or Portable Document Format files,

the Access Board said.

"This provision places a responsibility on the Web page author to know that

a compliant application exists" and to provide a link to it, said the board,

officially the Architechtural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board.

Most of the Web accessibility standards are aimed at ensuring that government

Web pages will be accessible to people with vision impairments, according

to the Access Board. Thus, most of the standards deal with making Web pages

usable to computer screen readers and refreshable Braille displays.

The key to this is attaching text descriptions to Web page images. Thus

the accessibility standards require a "text equivalent for every non-text

element."

Other Web page requirements include:

* Providing synchronized alternatives to video in multimedia presentations.

* Banning the use of color as the only means of conveying information.

* Coding tables with row and column headers so they are intelligible to

screen readers and Braille displays.

* Providing methods that let users skip repetitive navigation links.

* Avoiding screen flicker or flashing lights that can trigger seizures in

some viewers.

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