Accessibility in the News: March 2006Sunday, April 02, 2006
March 2006 saw the release of the DRC commissioned PAS 78 document which guides businesses in the creation of accessible websites. This document is a major step forward in bridging the gap between Disability Discrimination legislation and the World Wide Web, and leaves absolutely no doubt that the DDA is intended to cover websites. Businesses commissioning websites a strongly encouraged to use PAS 78 in their processes, which will help them deliver an accessible website. The case studies presented by Tesco and Legal & General solidly conclude there is a substantial return on investment in building accessible web services.
Copies of PAS 78 (priced at £30 - excluding VAT) are available from BSI's Customer Service team on +44 (0)20 8996 9001 or email@example.com.
Legal suits in the United States flare up again, notably Diebold. Their voting machines are taking a battering with a steady stream of complaints and actions. Kmart settled the biggest ADA complaint to date, forking out an estimated $13 million in compensation and store upgrades. As part of the settlement KMart are being creative in their choice of accessibility solution, which is refreshing.
Microsoft continues to receive a barrage of criticism over its offensive against Massachusetts state in light of playing the disabilities card in the Open Document Format selection. It turns out that independent software vendors are the main reason Microsoft Office is accessible in assistive technology - and this seems to be despite Microsoft's support. Moreover, Office 12 supposedly offers new help functionality that relies on mouse hovers - a known accessibility barrier.
There's a substantial amount of attention directed at the accessibility of UK Local government websites this month, mostly critical. The levels are far better than they were two years ago, but still fall short of reasonable expectations. Part of the problem are league tables - they prevent a proper and necessary focus on web accessibility.
- Guardian: Positive linking
Under one such target, English council websites should meet a demanding "AA" standard for accessibility to the visually impaired, set by the World Wide Web Consortium. In late December, more than 70% of councils said in their IEG responses that they would meet this target by its end-March deadline. But Socitm found that the "AA" standard was met by only three councils (less than 1%) when the research was carried out between November 15 and December 23 2005, while 53 English authorities (14%) met the less demanding "A" standard.
- eGov Monitor: Improvements to council websites "slowing"
And just over three-fifths of authorities achieved a level A rating under the 'web accessibility initiative' used to regulate content accessibility. No increase compared with 2005.
- St Alban's Observer: Website to help disabled launched
By visiting www.DisabledGo.info people will now be able to check in advance if a pub is wheelchair friendly, whether a venue offers a hearing loop, which hotels offer adapted rooms or whether a restaurant offers menus in braille or large print.
- eGov Monitor: Lewisham Council website scoops top ranking
The site was awarded 'transactional' status after scoring highly for enabling residents to access services such as paying council tax or claiming housing benefit online.
High ranking sites like Lewisham's also give a quality user experience and pay attention to accessibility, completeness, thoughtfulness and coherence.
- Public Technology: Your London.gov.uk wins award for web accessibility
The Internet offers visually impaired people access to information on an equal footing to sighted people, yet many sites do not take into account the visually impaired. The Disability Discrimination Act requires that website publishers ensure all reasonable adjustments are made for equality of access for disabled people, yet the NLB estimates that less than a third of all websites are accessible, to level one standard, for the visually impaired.
- Computing: Government sites not meeting standards
A survey of UK government web sites by Southampton University has found 61 per cent of them do not comply with internationally agreed HTML standards. Sites that don't meet standards can prove problematic for screen readers used by blind and partially-sighted readers.
- BBC: Government sites fail web tests
Mr Field said: "There is a big push within government to improve web accessibility. Although 61% of sites do not comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guide, the 39% which do is encouraging."
- Register: UK.gov html all over the place
Field admitted that while the accessibility issues were "difficult to sort out", he expressed his dismay at the html figures with: "It is a very unfortunate statistic. It should be better. It is not something that is difficult to improve upon."
Publicly Available Specification - PAS 78
- BBC: New standards for website access
The DRC also points out that businesses with accessible websites are in a much better position to tap into the estimated £80bn spent by people with disabilities every year.
"We need to ensure more websites can be used by disabled people," said DRC chairman, Bert Massie. "This document will play a key part in making that happen."
- out-law: How to commission an accessible website
The 56-page document, available for £30, sets out the steps that an organisation should follow to ensure that any new web development accommodates the widest possible audience. It assists with the formation of an accessibility policy and the procurement of developers. It stresses the importance of user testing and maintenance of accessibility levels.
- Computing: Guidelines to develop accessible web sites
"PAS 78 is the first time comprehensive guidance has been published in a single, authoritative document," commented Julie Howell, digital policy development manager at the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) and a contributor to the guide. "Much of the content has not been common knowledge until now, despite being scattered throughout the public domain."
- Guardian: Web designers still failing disabled people
"It's easy for designers and commissioners to be seduced by the opportunities that software provides to create visually stunning designs, while forgetting about the audience," says Julie Howell, digital policy development manager for the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) and technical author of the new guidance. "One of the main principles of PAS 78 is the creation of an accessibility policy. Site commissioners should think about the audience at the beginning of the design process and should put into writing a clear policy on who they are trying to reach and how they intend to ensure that those people are reached."
- Register: Call for disabled internet revolt
"We are serving notice that the Disability Rights Commission will use all its powers to secure compliance on this very important matter," warned DRC commissioner Michael Burton at the time, while his lawyer said those who refused to settle out of court would be "pursued all the way".
- ITWales: Guidance on development of user-friendly websites launched
The [PAS 78] document covers six key areas,
- The accessible website process - guidance on building an accessible website from commissioning and developing it, through to publishing and maintaining it. This also includes guidance on contracting web design and accessibility auditing services
- Accessibility policy - its importance and how to define this for the website
- Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines - their importance in the context of accessibility issues, what they mean and which ones to follow
- Involvement of disabled people - in the requirements gathering, conceptual design and testing processes
- Conformance checking - guidance on adhering to it
- Additional accessibility provisions - elements additional to conformance to the WAI guidelines can be useful but should not be considered essential
- BBC: Disabled users to test websites
Ms Howell said she also had worries about the well-being of the disabled testers employed by Usability Exchange. She urged those taking part to let the government know they were taking on employed work.
Hardware and Software
- GCN: Web browsers comply with Section 508
- IT Week: Interview: Sign-language takes to the web
I always thought that the deaf can read subtitles, so it wouldn't matter [if sites do not offer sign language], but there are about 70,000 people in the UK who use British Sign Language [BSL] as a primary means of communication. It's not a straight translation of English - it has its own word order, grammar and morphology - so English is often a very poor second language to them.
- ABC Chicago: Unique wheelchair gives users more accessibility
I-BOT was created by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway. It allows users to raise themselves to eye levels, climb stairs and get through doors easily.
- Consortium Info: Office formats, accessibility and politics: Caveat Legislator
Microsoft has not historically been an innovator in ensuring accessibility, although it has made accommodations in response to customer requirements, including those imposed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In fact, few of the tools used by the community of the disabled have been developed by Microsoft. Instead, they have been developed by small ISVs, and are sold (at significant cost) as add-ons to Windows-based systems. And, rather than making it easy for these ISVs to solve customer accessibility problems for Microsoft customers, Microsoft has been criticized for making their task more difficult.
- eGov: What's the future for the World Wide Web?
As part of the same discussion, Sir Tim also raises the issue of accessibility; "Everyone should be accommodated, especially when around 20 per cent of the population have special requirements. In fact, Microsoft said recently that nearly 50 per cent of people need to make some sort of adjustment to their system to interact with it."
- Public Technology: Visually impaired people get new interactive services at Tate Online
i-Map, the award winning arts resource for visually impaired people, has been updated to provide visitors with audio and new interactive content. Available at Tate Online (www.tate.org.uk/imap), i-Map is aimed at blind and partially sighted people with a general interest in art as well as art teachers and their visually impaired pupils.
The site originally launched in 2002 when it became the UK's first online art resource for visually impaired people. Since then, it has received widespread recognition including winning a BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Award for Accessibility in 2002, being short-listed for the Visionary Design Awards in 2002, and receiving a special commendation at the Jodi Mattes Awards 2003.
- NewsForge: FOSS community, disabled users must learn to communicate
An example of the need for better communication between the FOSS community and disability advocates emerged last year, when government officials in Massachusetts announced their intention to transition to the use of OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument). FOSS supporters celebrated the announcement, noting that the switch would reduce public expenditures, guarantee perpetual access to data, and end discrimination. FOSS supporters, however, were unprepared for criticism from organizations that fight discrimination against the disabled, such as the Disability Policy Consortium (DPC) and the Bay State Council for the Blind (BSCB).
- Computerworld: Former Massachusetts CIO vocal about open source
Even though the personal toll from his state government experience was huge, Quinn says he will not be silenced.
"I will remain very vocal and prominent regarding open standards, open source, especially OpenDocument Format and all aspects of accessibility for the disabled community."
Legal - US and Canada
- Contra Costa Times: Protesters rally against electronic voting machines
Dan Ashby's button asked, "Who did your voting machine vote for?" Michelle Gabriel held a sign accusing Secretary of State Bruce McPherson of flip-flopping on voting security procedures.
Other activists promoted the slogan, "Live Free or Diebold."
- phillyBurbs: eVoting in the News
The County Commissioners have another meeting scheduled for March 15th, when the decision about what voting machine system Bucks County will be using in 2006 could come down. If they go with a touch screen system, then we'll have no record of our vote and any recount will be an exercise in futility as we'd be expected to trust what the machine tells us we did instead of being able to haul out the voter-verified paper ballots to actually see what votes were cast.
- Times-Herald Record: The vote's in - Albany failed
In essence, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is being asked to argue in court that the state should be rewarded for its incompetence and political foot-dragging. As distasteful as that is, it's better than the alternative: rushing through purchase orders for new, untested machines and putting an expanded team of untrained poll workers in charge of assisting a voting public insufficiently educated in the new processes. Talk about the potential for chaos. New York 2006 could make Florida 2000 look like a model of election efficiency.
- The New Standard: Attitude, not cost, barrier to disabled workers
About half reported that implementing workplace adjustments came at no expense, and about 43 percent reported a one-time cost that averaged around $600.
- Denver Post: Kmart settles disability suit
Kmart will pay $16.25 million and improve access for disabled shoppers at its 1,400 stores in a potentially precedent-setting class-action settlement announced in Denver today.
Disabled Kmart customers or would-be customers from seven states including Colorado are eligible for $50 to $8,000 each as part of the agreement.
- Windsor Tribune: Woman realizes dream to help
A woman with Windsor roots has prevailed in a class-action lawsuit that resulted in the nation's largest settlement in a disability-access case. Carrie Ann Lucas, a 1989 Windsor High School graduate, filed suit against Kmart seven years ago. Lucas has central core myopathy, uses a wheelchair, and is legally blind and deaf. She said her problems with Kmart - at stores in Denver and one in Greeley - started when she drove into the parking lot.
- Globe and Mail: Disabilities group criticizes rights plan
The Liberal government said last month that the quasi-judicial Ontario Human Rights Tribunal would take over direct responsibility for dealing with individual complaints about discrimination.
The move takes away the commission's ability to screen complaints to decide which should be forwarded to the tribunal. It is intended to free the commission to deal with "systemic" issues involving groups rather than individuals.
- Times Standard: Kmart settles largest ADA lawsuit in nation
"Kmart was very creative in their approach to this settlement," she said. "For example, there will be a sign at the front of stores that will direct (those with an accessibility issue) to a two-way communication device that the customer can carry around with them so they can call for help if they have any problems. This means you are not left circling around the store looking for someone to help you, you can call from ladies' pants."
- Inside Bay Area: Group of voters files suit to block Diebold machines
Voters say Diebold's AccuVote TSx contains software prohibited by federal standards and offers a paper trail that is useless to voters with disabilities and difficult for elections officials to use in verifying computerized voting.
"Quite simply, we can't have trustworthy elections with Diebold touch-screen machines," said Lowell Finley, a Berkeley-based elections lawyer leading the lawsuit. "And without trustworthy elections, we don't have democracy."
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: More-accessible voting machines get state OK
But Michael Huckaby of Madison, who is blind, said the Vote-PAD he used was "cumbersome and inconvenient."
Board members approved Vote-PAD's use in municipalities of fewer than 7,500 people but cautioned that if accessibility proves to be an issue, the machines may need to be replaced.
- Wolters Kluwer: Target Corporation sued for discriminating against persons who are blind
The complaint, filed on February 7, 2006, in California Superior Court for Alameda County seeks to enjoin Target from continued violation of the California Civil Code. The suit asks the court to declare that Target is operating its website in a manner that discriminates against the blind and persons with visual disabilities in violation of California law. The complaint also seeks damages for the plaintiffs.