Webmasters get online 508 how-to's

Web page designers—and their bosses—who aren't sure how to create pages that meet the accessibility standards spelled out by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act now can turn to an online training course for advice.

A series of online lessons developed by Interactive Media Corp. for the General Services Administration are up and running and receiving favorable reviews.

The lessons begin with a 19-page explanation of the Section 508 law requiring that when federal agencies buy information technology, they must buy technology that can be used by people with disabilities. The law applies to Web pages as well as to office equipment.

There are eight lessons, and the longest one is a 52-page practicum on designing Web pages to meet 508 standards. It could take several hours to complete. A less detailed overview is designed to take two to three hours to complete.

Other lessons deal with such matters as:

    * How to use frames and style sheets.

    * Alternatives to multimedia presentations.

    * Scripts and applets.

    * How to handle online forms and PDF files,

    * How to verify that the finished Web site is 508-compliant.

It's a "super course," said Don Barrett, an accessibility expert at the Education Department.

"The site is very concise and very accurate. The content is excellent," said Patrick Sheehan, a computer specialist in the Office of Information Technology at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The online tutorial is likely to be most useful to Web designers who are familiar with Section 508 but want more detailed instructions on how to make specific elements of their Web pages accessible. For example, a designer might want specific instructions on how to create accessible tables, Sheehan said. The training course "will walk you through it," he said.

The lessons were intended by GSA to train federal Web designers, but are available to anyone who wants to take them. A link to the lessons has been added to the federal accessibility Web site (www.section508.gov).

Because Section 508 is enforced through federal procurement regulations, GSA is planning to add courses to the site to train government procurement officers in the details of the law. Other planned additions include training courses for human resources personnel.

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