2003 Conference Proceedings

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ICDRI UPDATE ON GLOBAL ACCESSIBLE WEB POLICY AND LAW

Presenters
Cynthia D. Waddell, JD, Executive Director
International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet (ICDRI)
1677 Fairwood Avenue, Suite 200
San Jose, California 95125-4939 USA
(408) 266-3822 Day Phone
(408) 266-3822 Fax (Must call before sending FAX
Email: Cynthia.Waddell@icdri.org

Rianne C. ten Veen, ICDRI Advisory Board
ICDRI
Rue du Chatelain 8 b 24
B-1000 Brussels, Belgium
+32-2-648 64 78 Day Phone
Email: rtv@multiplicityonline.com

Abstract

This presentation provides an update on accessible web policy and law adopted by countries around the world. Disability discrimination complaints will be discussed as well as the current US Section 508 activity surrounding Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards.

Introduction

This presentation addresses the global drive for international law and policy addressing accessible web design. Today, over half-a-billion people in the world have one or more disabilities. This means that 10% of the world's population could be excluded from the information society if accessible web is not addressed. The global community has reached a significant crossroad where our policies, technology and design choices will determine whether or not every person will participate in the digital economy. The explosive growth of electronic commerce and on-line services has never before made it so obvious to people with disabilities- or anyone without the latest state of the art technology- that they cannot participate due to barriers in web design.

United Nations

The United Nations first published a special report on 'People with Disabilities, Accessibility on the Internet' on 16 June 1998. See http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/.

European Union

The European Union has a relatively long history in the area of disability issues. From 1991-1994 the Commission oversaw the TIDE project (Technology Initiative for Disabled and Elderly People) and in July 1996 the Commission presented a Communication on 'Equality of opportunity for people with disabilities: a new European Community strategy'. December 1966 brought a Council Resolution on equality of opportunity for people with disabilities and the EU Amsterdam treaty of October 1977 provided the power for the EU to tackle discrimination based on disability.

In December 1999 the Commission launched an eEurope initiative. In response to a request from the Council in March 2000, an eEurope Action Plan 2002 was issued in June 2000. This plan identified 10 main issues, including e-accessibility, to be tackled by 2002. The Action Plan e-accessibility priorities were:

Since the adoption of the eEurope Action Plan 2002, the Commission in September 2001 launched a Communication 'eEurope 2002: Accessibility of Public Web Sites and their content'. This activity was followed in October 2001 by a Council Resolution on e-inclusion. In March 2002 the Council adopted a Recommendation with guidelines for a 'Web Accessibility Initiative'. In line with the eEurope Action Plan, an European network of Centres of Excellence/ National Contact Centres was launched in April 2002.

During the CSUN presentation, an EU update will be provided concerning law and policy activity since April 2002.

Other Countries

This presentation will also provide an update on countries outside the EU and the current status of accessible web design law and policy.

Examples of Accessible Web Complaints

There are at least two types of complaints that can be filed against entities for creating and maintaining inaccessible web sites. The first example comes from the US. Let us go back in Internet pioneering time to 1995 and the Wild, Wild West - where there were no laws and every frontier web site was on its own. At the time Cynthia Waddell served as the Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance Officer for the City of San Jose and was responsible for citywide compliance with State and federal disability access laws.

Her office received an administrative complaint stating that the City was operating an inaccessible web site. A Blind City commissioner complained that she could not access City Council documents on our web site because they were posted in Portable Document Format (PDF). As the complaint was investigated, Cynthia Waddell found that she was also a stakeholder in the accessible web effort since she needed captioning to understand web casts and audio streaming. As a person with a lifetime significant hearing loss - who had taken years and years of speech and lip-reading lessons -she found it impossible to lip-read audio on the web.

By June 1996 her office had implemented the City of San Jose Web Page Disability Access Design Standard in response to the monitoring of ADA Internet complaints and the need to incorporate city ADA implementation policies. The accessible web design standard soon became recognized as a best practice by the US government and was adopted by jurisdictions in the US and abroad.

The second type of complaint takes us to Australia where a Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) complaint was filed against the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG). In June 1999, Mr. Maguire, a blind Australian citizen, filed a complaint with the DDA enforcement agency - the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission- alleging a number of claims, including the failure of the SOCOG to provide an accessible web site.

In August 2000, the court found the SOCOG in breach of the DDA and ordered that the web site be made accessible. The defendant was found to have discriminated against the complainant because the web site:

  1. Did not include alt text on all images and image map links;
  2. The index to Sports could not be accessed from the Schedule Page; and
  3. The results Tables were inaccessible.

The SOCOG was ordered to make the web site accessible by the start of the Sydney Olympics but because they were found only partly compliant in November 2000, damages were awarded in the amount of $20,000.

US -Section 508

Today the US national information technology and research agenda is aligning with civil rights laws and fueling the expansion of technological innovations and creativity. For further information about this issue, please see the law and policy chapters of the book, Constructing Accessible Web Sites, referenced at http://www.icdri.org/constructing_accessible_web_site.htm.

The US government's procurement of electronic and information technology products and services is currently undergoing a radical change due to the passage of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. By strengthening Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, this new law prohibits federal agencies, with limited exceptions, from developing, purchasing, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology that are inaccessible to individuals with disabilities.

In December 2000, the US Access Board released the Electronic & Information Technology Accessibility Standards. Effective June 2001, these standards provide technical and functional performance criteria that determine whether a technology product or system is "accessible." For the first time in US history, there are minimum functional requirements for the accessible design of technology.

Under Section 508, the scope of electronic and information technology is expansively defined. It includes computers (such as hardware, software and accessible data such as web pages), facsimile machines, copiers, information transaction machines or kiosks, telephones, multimedia and other equipment used for transmitting, receiving using, or storing information. In addition, the definition of information technology includes any equipment or interconnected system, or subsystem of equipment, used in the creation, conversion or duplication of data or information.

Section 508 provides 16 rules for the design of Web-based intranet and Internet information and applications. The first eleven rules correspond to Priority Level One Checkpoints in the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. However, the remaining five rules are unique to Section 508 and are particular to government web site needs for usability and accessibility. In general,

  1. Web page authors who utilize scripting languages for content or interface elements are required to provide script information so that it can be read by assistive computer technology;

  2. When a web page requires that an applet, plug-in or other application be present to interpret page content, the page must provide a link to a plug-in or applet and that resource must comply with the accessible software design requirements of Section 1194.21;

  3. Online electronic forms must be designed so that people using assistive computer technology can access the information and functionality for completing and submitting the form;

  4. A method shall be provided to permit users to skip repetitive navigation links; and

  5. When a timed response is required, the user shall be alerted and given sufficient time to indicate more time is required.

Because the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were not developed within the US regulatory enforcement framework, it was not possible for the US Access Board to adopt it as a standard for accessible web design. However, the US Access Board stated in their publication of these rules that they plan to work with the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative in the future on the verifiability and achievability of W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

US Accessibility Forum

One way to monitor the federal accessibility effort is to participate or observe the Federal Accessibility Forum sponsored by the US General Services Administration. This effort is an ongoing collaboration among stakeholders affected by Section 508 and includes industry, government, and other communities in order to benefit employees and members of the public with disabilities. The Forum's ongoing work is to identify, prioritize, and conduct projects that assist government in making informed decisions about Section 508 related procurement, and allow government, industry, and users to communicate and highlight areas where further effort is needed. More information about this activity can be found at http://www.accessibilityforum.org.

References

Constructing Accessible Web Sites at:
http://www.icdri.org/constructing_accessible_web_site.htm and http://www.icdri.org.


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