New law promises to make federal websites more accessible

From the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT):

The Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA)

US Capitol DomeThe year 2018 closed with the passage of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (21C-IDEA) in December, which promises to make federal websites more accessible, user friendly, and secure.

This new law requires federal agencies to modernize the websites and digital services they offer, according to eight specific criteria, including accessibility for people with disabilities. All federal agencies in the Executive Branch must already meet the accessibility standards of Rehabilitation Act Section 508, as codified in the Section 508 Rule published by the U.S. Access Board.  However, 21C-IDEA is noteworthy for several reasons, including its emphasis on increasing agencies’ compliance with Section 508.

Within 180 days of the law’s passage, all new and redesigned federal websites must comply with the new criteria, and agencies must submit plans to Congress for how they will accelerate the use of electronic signatures.

21C-IDEA also requires federal chief information officers (CIOs) to coordinate with other executives and ensure that departments plan adequate funding and resources to execute these requirements.

The provisions include several significant requirements to make federal websites more user friendly, usable, and robust for all users, including a requirement that digital formats of all paper-based forms be available within two years. Under the requirements of 21C-IDEA, federal websites must:

  • provide a customized digital experience to individual users
  • maintain a consistent appearance
  • be fully functional and usable on common mobile devices
  • use an industry-standard secure connection
  • contain a search function that allows users to easily search content intended for public use

These user-friendly requirements overlap substantially with principles of Universal Design, and their use by federal agencies should help make federal websites easier to use for everyone, including people with disabilities.

 

Reaching Accessibility Goals for Higher Education

Accessible Information TechnologyA new article in Inside Higher Ed magazine Helping Institutions Reach Accessibility Goals details the fact that many institutions of higher education fail to have “coherent policies around accessibility. ” And, they note that there has been “…a recent uptick in high-profile lawsuits alleging failure to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act…”

While the reasons for this situation are many, the article suggests “time constraints” make be a factor. Quoting Cynthia Curry from the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (NC-AEM)“Part of the problem is that people don’t have the time to do something systemic around accessibility within their institutions…” Curry said. “Most institutions, of course, aren’t looking proactively at accessibility. They’re looking at it more as a retrofit, or they’re being reactive if something litigious comes up.”

Maine CITE’s own resident digital accessibility resource person is John Brandt. Brandt’s own 25-year experience in web development and accessibility suggest that the perceived high cost to make web content accessible is probably the largest single factor in the equation. “Most organizations look at accessibility as expensive because they are approaching it from a mitigation perspective. They often fail to look at the costs associated with NOT having accessible content – lost student admissions, lack of student retention, etc.”

While most web accessibility experts will talk about the importance of “adding accessibility in at the beginning” of a web design process, colleges and universities are often not able to do this since they were among the first organizations to have websites in the 1990s – they have accumulated lots of content.

But even if an institution is committed to improving accessibility, they often don’t know where to start. To that end, the Inside Higher Education article promotes a new set of quality indicators for accessible educational materials developed by NC-AEM designed to “help institutions ensure, at scale, that all students have the same learning opportunities in face-to-face classrooms and digital learning environments.” The article focuses on the NC-AEM’s recently published  “Higher Education Critical Components of the Quality Indicators for the Provision of Accessible Educational Materials & Accessible Technologies” which promote seven quality indicators (QI), each containing specific criteria needed to achieve each QI.

For colleges and universities just starting out with the process, these quality indicators can provide a blueprint and structure of the thinking process that need to be considered. Tom Tobin, one of the people interviewed in the article, encourages “institutions (to) focus accessibility efforts on the potential impact on student access and learning outcomes, rather than merely on ‘legal-compliance arguments.’”

“While the description of the quality indicators alludes to the broad access benefits for all learners when accessible materials, tools and interface are adopted, the actual indicators and critical components are focused squarely on meeting the needs of learners with disabilities — only a part of the access conversation,” Tobin states in the article.

Read “Helping Institutions Reach Accessibility Goals”

Read/view the NC-AEM – “Higher Education Critical Components of the Quality Indicators for the Provision of Accessible Educational Materials & Accessible Technologies”

Group formed to test and document assistive technologies

ARIA W3C logoThe W3C – World Wide Web Consortia – has created a community group to systematically test and document  assistive technologies use of ARIA and HTML5 accessibility features in web applications. W3C membership is NOT needed to participate in the community group.

How WAI-ARIA is supported by assistive technologies, such as screen readers, is highly variable. This variation in WAI-ARIA rendering adds unnecessary complexity to the development of high-quality web experiences for users of assistive technologies and places significant limitations on the types of web widgets that can be made widely accessible.

This community group is dedicated to:

  1. Helping assistive technology developers converge on a set of clear norms for baseline support of WAI-ARIA.
  2. Helping web developers understand the current state of support for WAI-ARIA by assistive technologies.

WAI-ARIA is as important to assistive technology presentation as CSS is to visual presentation. Join us to help make WAI-ARIA as reliable as CSS.

In order to join the group, you will need a W3C account. Please note, however, that W3C Membership is not required to join a Community Group. Complete details may be found at this link…

This is a community initiative. This group was originally proposed on 2018-11-30 by Matthew King. The following people supported its creation: Matthew King, Laura Fathauer, Shadi Abou-Zahra, David Sexton, Mark McCarthy, Aaron Leventhal. W3C’s hosting of this group does not imply endorsement of the activities.

 

ARIA – What should we know?

ARIA W3C logoAccording to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), “…ARIA, the Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite, defines a way to make Web content and Web applications more accessible to people with disabilities. It especially helps with dynamic content and advanced user interface controls developed with Ajax, HTML, JavaScript, and related technologies. Currently certain functionality used in Web sites is not available to some users with disabilities, especially people who rely on screen readers and people who cannot use a mouse. ARIA addresses these accessibility challenges, for example, by defining new ways for functionality to be provided to assistive technology. With ARIA, developers can make advanced Web applications accessible and usable to people with disabilities.”

But some critics have said that ARIA has “tried to be too many things to too many people” and has resulted in more problems that solutions. This recent blog article by WebAIM summarizes the controversies and gets into some of the nitty-gritty on ARIA. Be aware that this is rather technical stuff; something directed mostly to web developers.