Accessibility drives new-look Web sites

Just a few days remain to meet the June 21 deadline for Web site accessibility. Are you 508-ready?

We've all been through the rumors and interpretations of Section 508 and what it will or won't do to Web sites. I hope that you have taken the opportunity to attend one of the excellent seminars that have been presented about accessibility and how to achieve it. Demonstrations by vendors and show-and-tell sessions at meetings such as the Federal WebMasters Forum have helped Web personnel form a foundation for action.

Accessibility issues go way beyond Web site content and presentation and likely will have an impact on us in the near future — if they haven't arrived in your shop already. Those matters include:

Changing speech to text for hearing-impaired users. Using a standard protocol to operate cell phones, a photocopier or other devices that could be connected to and operated from a computer. Enabling at-home teleconferencing with connections to office machines. Controlling a computer via speech commands. Several of the research projects are showing promise. They will expand opportunities for those needing accessibility as well as for other staff members.

That same theme — making accessibility improvements that expand opportunities for everyone — is one I've heard expressed by several Webmasters. Some have put the idea into practice on their Web sites.

The pages I've enjoyed browsing the most demonstrate this philosophy by helping users to quickly locate the information they're seeking: The home page organizes information, text is reduced to links and the page loads quickly because JavaScript and pictures are eliminated. The page is direct, to the point and easy to navigate no matter what browser is being used.

A Web site with pages like that is a joy to use because information can be quickly located.

Accessibility is teaching Web personnel to review the value of everything on a site that does not provide or link to related information. Bouncing balls, items fading in and out, moving lines, and other bells and whistles are distracting nuisances. They add little information, require space that can be put to better use, and are often difficult to explain or justify in terms of accessibility. We're all better served without them.

Accessible Web pages containing information that has been organized, pleasantly presented, has text reduced to hyperlinks, is direct, easily navigated and loads quickly is the new look for 2001.

Are you 508-ready?

Powell is the Agriculture Department's Internet and intranet Webmaster.

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