April17,2012

A Look behind the Scenes – Part II: The Website Accessibility Information Gap

A wooden directional sign at crossroads.

By Marc Seguin, System Analyst, Disability.gov

This is the second 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/. You can also read Part I of the series.

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

Many people within the accessibility community would like specific information on how to ensure their website is compliant. You may be thinking that there are limited examples to learn from, not enough information is shared or there are few documented detailed processes about how to do it.

The message that we would like to spread is that those responsible for making websites accessible are not helpless to fix the sites they oversee and the accessibility problems within them. If you lack the knowledge about how to test for accessibility and correct it, seek out help by contacting your fellow Section 508 Coordinators.

If you are not getting the help that you need, then ask those resources for more information or seek out the information in other ways. For example, you can sign up for newsletters, attend accessibility conferences, join LinkedIn or Facebook groups and follow users on Twitter who are sharing information about accessibility every day.

Sadly, there is no magic bullet or automated tool that can make a website accessible. Like most things that are worth it, making a website accessible takes hard work. When it comes to documenting the best practices for making and keeping a website accessible, there really isn’t any need to reinvent the wheel.

Is there really a lack of informational resources available on how to make a website Section 508 compliant? If you perform a Google search using the search term, “how to be section 508 compliant,” you will receive more than 4.5 million results. Not every search result is going to be useful, but there are many helpful resources from Section508.gov, the U.S. Access Board, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs that you can learn from.

We are not here to lecture others about accessibility. Instead, we have worked to set ourselves as an example and role model of what a federal website with a focus on Web accessibility can be. We have helped multiple agencies with reviews and provided technical solutions for accessibility issues. We have done our best to educate agency representatives about the parts of Section 508 that they are unfamiliar with and provide techniques, resources and solutions that they can use. One of the lead developers on the Disability.gov team has provided Section 508 and accessibility training to Web developers within the different agencies at the Department of Labor. However, educating others about how to meet Section 508 is not our primary mission.

With that said, typically, the reasons we find that websites are not accessible are:

  • A lack of understanding as to why designing for accessibility is important.
  • A lack of funds to fix existing accessibility problems.
  • A lack of human resources dedicated to accessibility.
  • And a lack of people with the knowledge base about accessibility problems and solutions.

The biggest problem isn’t a lack of information. Unfortunately, there are just not enough educated people with the money and resources behind them to fix the existing accessibility problems. If you don’t know what is required in Section 508 §1194.22, visit other websites who have done great jobs on describing the requirements and how to meet them.

First, familiarize yourself with Section 508 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. If you still have questions, visit WebAIM. If you’d like to see a good example of the steps used to ensure accessibility on a federal website, check out the Recovery.gov case study.

But why stop or limit yourself to just these resources? Go out and find your own.

To be continued….

Stay tuned for A Look behind the Scenes – Part III: Website Accessibility Isn’t an Exact Science

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