2002 Conference Proceedings

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Laurie Harrison
Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, University of Toronto

Many of us know people with disabilities who rely on adaptive technology in order to access web pages. Over the last few years the situation has improved considerably in terms of the web compatibility of access tools such as screen readers, magnifiers, and alternative mouse systems. At the same time, the web continues to establish itself as a new form of the grocery store, library, classroom, government office and community centre. While any of these resources can potentially be made accessible, the greatest access challenge, relative to the Web, is to make sure that all authors follow accessibility guidelines. Clearly, HTML authors need to be supported in design of Web pages with a wide range of users in mind, and assisted in providing features that optimize access to users with disabilities.

In recent months there has been a surge of concern regarding web accessibility on the part of Web developers. This can chiefly be attributed to the Section 508 IT Requirements (i) now mandating the accessibility of federal departmental web sites, with potential implications for educational institutions as well. As a result, a plethora of new software utilities has appeared on the market, all claiming to automate the process of evaluating and/or repairing Web pages. These tools assist the author in identifying the changes needed in the HTML code in order for the pages in question to conform to accessibility standards. The interface generally presents a series of prompts and dialogue boxes, requiring input on the part of the author to meet compliance based on the set of accessibility standards or level of compliance chosen. Some products provide web site management and reporting systems to allow supervisors to track their organization's web site accessibility on a global level.

There are two sets of standards that are generally used by developers of these evaluation and repair products to set benchmarks for compliance. The first is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 from the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). (ii) This document, finalized in 1999, provides a priority-based hierarchy of guidelines which has long been a point of reference for evaluation of the accessibility of Web-based resources. In addition, the Section 508 requirements, amended in 1998, defines expectations for Federal agencies in making their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities, including those with vision, hearing, and mobility impairments. The Access Board, an independent Federal agency whose primary mission is to promote accessibility for individuals with disabilities, has established a "Guide to the Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology"(iii) outlining their expectations for compliance.

While these two sets of standards provide the context for evaluation and repair, as yet little attention has been paid to the role of authoring tools, such as HTML editors, in development of accessible resources. A grassroots approach including integration of accessible authoring practices and validation processes into the design phase would reduce the need for the evaluation and repair tools. However, as yet, only preliminary steps are evident in the HTML editors currently on the market. An example of this strategy is the 508 Accessibility Suite for Dreamweaver and UltraDev, a downloadable software extension that supports HTML authors in testing Web sites and making them accessible. (iv) In an ideal world all Web authoring tools would in themselves provide utilities and information to prompt creation of accessible resources. The authoring tool is a mechanism that can reach authors who have neither the knowledge or even the will to make their Web pages accessible.

Until such time as integration into authoring tools becomes customary, Web designers will have to rely on products specifically developed for the purpose of evaluation and repair. The question arises: Which of these products provides the most accurate analysis of accessibility issues, generates appropriate information and reports, and effectively facilitates the repair process.

This presentation at CSUN's 2002 Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference will provide an independent review and comparison of six accessibility evaluation and repair tools currently on the market. The review will utilize the Access Tool Reviewer, developed by Chris Ridpath of the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, University of Toronto.(v) The Access Tool Reviewer (ATR) provides a comprehensive set of test files and allows the user to track the ability of a particular product to handle the specific accessibility issue within each file. Results may be stored for product evaluation and comparison. The review will include the following products:

* A-Prompt Tool Kit (http://www.aprompt.ca)
* InSight and InFocus (http://www.ssbtechnologies.com/index.php)
* AccVerify and AccRepair (http://www.hisoftware.com/access/Index.html )
* Page Screamer (http://crunchy.com/tools/index.html)
* RetroAccess (http://www.retroaccess.com)
* Usable Net (508 Accessibility Suite for Dreamweaver and UltraDev) (http://www.macromedia.com/downloads/)

Results of the evaluation will be made available at the time of the conference.
i Section 508 E & IT Requirements: http://www.section508.gov/requirements.html 
ii Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0:
iii Guide to the Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/guide/index.htm 
iv the 508 Accessibility Suite for Dreamweaver and UltraDev (http://www.macromedia.com/exchange/dreamweaver/)
v Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, University of Toronto (http://www.utoronto.ca/atrc)

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