A Look behind the Scenes – Part I: Making Disability.gov Accessible
A Look behind the Scenes – Part I: Making Disability.gov Accessible

Categories: Disability.Blog News, Technology

An image of a computer keyboard with a red accessibility button.

By Marc Seguin, System Analyst, Disability.gov 

This is the first post in a multi-part series written by the Disability.gov team to help others learn about the importance of website accessibility and the best practices that are used on Disability.gov. For more information on the Section 508 standards and tools, please visit http://section508.gov/.

The people who make up the Disability.gov team are intensely focused on the mission of providing people with disabilities, their families and others the most comprehensive information available on disability programs and services in communities nationwide. Therefore, meeting and exceeding the requirements of Section 508 (of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are very important to us. We have worked hard to make Disability.gov a known leader in website accessibility and usability, because we understand how much it improves the overall user experience.

Managing and maintaining more than 14,000 resources from federal, state and local government agencies, academic institutions and nonprofit organizations keeps the handful of people that comprise our team extremely busy. We want to make sure the information the site offers is up-to-date, useful and accurate. Our small team usually doesn’t have the bandwidth to engage as often as we’d like in wide ranging discussions about website accessibility and Section 508 compliance – largely because of the effort we dedicate to maintaining the site itself, including implementing site redesigns and new features like the widget that was launched last year.

We also focus on our social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Disability.Blog, as well as writing the bi-monthly Disability Connection newsletter. These efforts help us connect people with disabilities to the information they need to fully participate in the workforce and their communities. Above all, that is our mission.

Disability.gov (previously known as DisabilityInfo.gov) has been around for nearly 10 years, so many of the accessibility issues that may affect other websites have fortunately been resolved long ago. We incorporate accessibility testing as part of our development process and ongoing website maintenance. We utilize different assistive technologies, including screen readers (JAWS, Window Eyes, NVDA, Voice Over), screen magnifiers (ZoomText), speech recognition software (Dragon Naturally Speaking) and the most commonly used browser types and versions.

The primary ways we test for Section 508 compliance and accessibility are:

  • Manual testing by educated and experienced users, including those with disabilities and others who have worked with people who have a wide range of disabilities and have utilized different types of assistive technologies. (I believe that most in the accessibility testing world would agree that somewhere around 20-30 percent of best practices can be checked using automated methods alone.) Employing manual verification through user testing allows us to catch what can be missed by the rigid code standards that automated tools rely on, find false positive results and test dynamic features.
  • Seeking to meet Section 508 standards and exceed them by following the WCAG 2.0 AA guidelinesand other checkpoints as defined by the W3C. Because accessibility has been our focus for a long time, testing is typically done during a major iteration where a significant structure of the site may have been changed or a new feature has been added.  
  • Attempting to upgrade or update the site every one to two months, meaning that accessibility testing happens at least that often. Regular, intensive accessibility testing is done on the site every six months or annually, as resources and scheduling permit. 
  • Measuring user feedback. Like many other sites, we use a survey powered by ForeSee to measure our visitors’ experience with Disability.gov and evaluate comments received through email, Twitter, Facebook and other methods. We strive to respond as quickly as possible, oftentimes implementing solutions that not only meet accessibility requirements, but also improve the site’s usability.

To be continued….

Are you a Section 508 coordinator, federal web content manager or a member of the disability community who has questions about web accessibility?

Stay tuned next Tuesday for A Look behind the Scenes – Part II: The Website Accessibility Information Gap

17 Responses to A Look behind the Scenes – Part I: Making Disability.gov Accessible

  1. Linda L. says:

    Nice site, however I couldn’t find any actual help with finding a job. I am a senior, disabled and a veteran. Lost my job, no fault of mine in March 2011, supporting two mentally disabled grown children and one two year old grandchild, get $550.00 per month from Social Security, only income, pay mortgage, utilities and food on that. I need help, can your org. help me with re-training and finding work?

  2. Steven M. says:

    My son’s college refuses to provide needed accommodations to assist him in overcoming his physical and mental disabilities, how can you help us and where else can we turn for help? He was even charged extra money to receive one of his accommodations, does this not violate Federal Law and thus is this not illegal. It appears that the college feels as though he is too much trouble to accomodate and, by denying other needed accomodations and charging extra for an accommodation he did receive, is trying to force him to leave. Please help him.

  3. D.D. Ghezzi says:

    My daughter, age 33, was diagnosed with matastic breast cancer to the lung, Stage 4. Where would she go to register for disability? She has not worked since July 2011, and is receiving no income. Any guidance would be a big help. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

    • Maged says:

      I just had the opportunity to test for an opening for a Dispatcher for the Sheriff’s Department in the rural county of Trempealeau in Western Wisconsin. It was great just being given the opportunity to test. Times are tough and there were plenty of applicants. I just hope that Human Resources knows what going without employment for a lengthy period because of a disability can do as a motivator to be as good as one can be as an employee. To be honest though, the best candidate, handicapped or not, should get the position and it appeared I was up against some experienced Dispatchers. I pay taxes, too and want to know that my county is hiring the best, not the most disabled! I’m just happy to have had the opportunity to have tested!!

  4. Jon B. says:

    Can someone tell me why the United States postal service is exempt from presidential order 13548 July 2010 and is not obligated to help a disabled person have his bid job back after having shoulder surgery and has same medical restrictions as before surgery, but now has job accomodations taken away and not allowed to return in any capacity? How is this legal? I am a disabled veteran with 25 years in the united states post office and just want to continue my job as before surgery. Why am I discriminated against doing my job?

  5. Molly G. says:

    I like to know if you can help me create my own website without any cost.
    Thanks! Molly

  6. Robert S. says:

    Dear Sirs,

    I receive Social Security monthly. I am 73 yrs old and own my own business and now have Parkinsons. Do I qualify for disability?

    Robert S.

    • Disability.Blog Team says:

      Hi Robert,

      Eligibility for Social Security disability benefits depends on many factors, including nature and severity of disability, if you are currently working and the number of years you have worked. For more information, visit http://www.ssa.gov/disability/step4and5.htm.

      For more information, contact the Social Security Agency (SSA) at 1-800-772-1213 (1-800-325-0778/TTY). Representatives are available Monday – Friday from 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

  7. Francesca M. T. says:

    I have asked this site a long time ago when I was working for instruments that would help me with my job. NO luck, not even a note. Now that I’m unmployed and going to college, the same instruments it occured to me still may be helpful. Hopefully, I will be returning to work. I thank you and could you send me the list, as I have forgotten some of the items. A pad so I can rest my wrists was one. I have carpal tunnel is one of them. Please send the rest.

  8. John Anthony C. says:

    Help me.

    • Jack G. says:

      John, any chance you could tell us what you need help with? I am certain with the Disability.gov team and the multitude of practicing and retired social workers, who read this, we could direct you to the correct services and tell you how to access the help you need. Please write again and make your needs known.
      Thank you, John.

    • Disability.Blog Team says:

      Hi John. We have the same question as Jack. What sort of assistance are you looking for? Please provide us with more information, and we can recommend some resources that may be able to help you.

  9. Raja M. Y. T. says:

    United States is leading the world now and for the future. So many issues. Still more to do.

    • Patricio says:

      You are right Sandi, there is an incredible stigma against the disabled, especially against the mentally ill. It is terribly unfortunate that this stigma exists. There is little that can really be done. I mean the Americans with Disabilities Act basically lets you lie and say you don’t have a mental illness or whatever kind of disability you might have, at least that’s what I think the main benefit of the law is. For example, I don’t say my disabilities publically on my web pages or anything. Once a lady called me on the phone and scolded me for this and I told her to review the ADA because it clearly lets me keep my medical status private. I’ve been in touch with President Obama and my Congressional representatives and my state authorities and local authorities advocating for the disabled and myself. I have an extensive education from University and I don’t back down I let them know exactly what I think on subjects they are making decisions about. Be bold, do not stand back and let yourself be trampled upon.

  10. G.F. Mueden says:

    I have pointed to you as a model to follow. Your emails read well, but not those from the White House or the VA. Taking pains seems to make the difference. How does your budget compare to theirs? Is it a matter of funds or paying attention to feedback, or what? Which of what you do produces the most change?