Congress pushed on Web accessibility

Advocates for people with disabilities want Congress to be forced into improving accessibility of its Web sites.

Members of Congress have made progress in making their Web pages more available to people with disabilities in the two years since a law to improve the accessibility of taxpayer-supported sites was passed, but they likely would do even more if their compliance with the law was mandatory rather than voluntary, experts and advocates for people with disabilities said.

Assessing congressional compliance with the law, known as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998, was a theme of the second annual Congressional Web Accessibility Day, held July 22. The statute requires federal agencies to develop, procure and maintain information technology that is accessible to persons with disabilities.

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who was paralyzed at age 16 after a gun accident, said he has drafted legislation requiring congressional compliance with the law. Langevin, who co-chairs Congress' Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, added that he is also trying to get more money approved for the initiative. Meanwhile, he encouraged the expansion of programs informing people about Section 508's importance.

Since the law was passed, 130 congressional offices have requested help in making sites more accessible to people with disabilities, according to Ali Qureshi, Web systems branch manager at the House Information Resources Department. About 20 percent of these offices specifically wanted to make their sites compatible with Section 508, he said.

Others at the event said that Web sites should be accessible and informative. Kathy Goldschmidt, director of technology services for the Congressional Management Foundation, gave five tips for making sites more accessible:

* Post descriptions of all images.

* Make links easy to understand out of context.

* Make it possible to skip repetitive lists of links.

* Avoid any blinking, flashing or moving elements.

* Include links to where users can download plug-ins, when needed.

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