Is Your Web Site ADA Compliant?
by Rob Reilly Ed.D.
Computer Education Teacher, Lanesborough (Mass.) School System
We run into the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) quite often these days. Buildings have ramps for those unable to navigate stairs, restrooms have stalls that are wheelchair-friendly, elevators have Braille floor selection buttons, and televisions have closed-captioning for the hearing impaired (and for me, so that I can continue to watch TV in bed when my wife wants the sound turned off so that she can go to sleep).
The concept of expanding opportunities for individuals with disabilities through the development and innovative use of technology is certainly a familiar concept these days—we have one-handed keyboards, large button keyboards for those with hand tremors, and software programs that converts text into speech.
As a society we are quite conscious of the need to accommodate those who are disabled. Those who build computers are also following suit and thus computers are move toward universal accessiblity. Software developers are beginning to evolve assistive software. For example the Center for Adapted Technology (CAST) (www.cast.org) has developed, among other things, the eReader, which converts text to speech.
However it seems that the technology with the greatest potential to become a Number One asset to disabled people—Web sites—lacks the motivation or awareness to become out for the disabled. Using current hardware and software devices, the Web itself is relatively accessible by the disabled. But once on the Web, disabled Web surfers encounter a daunting obstacle; at many Web sites they are unable to receive or fully understand the information that is presented there. Web site development must include accommodations for disabled surfers. CAST notes that Web pages must, for example: "provide informative text equivalents for graphics, clearly identify changes from the natural language of a document’s text" to captions or advertisements, "provide text summaries of graphs and charts, and ensure that all information that is presented in color is also available without color." These are but a few examples for a Web surfer is visually impaired. For a hearing impaired Web surfer a different set of obstacles exist. For example, audio files need to be accompanied with an accessible text-based transcript, video presentations should have a synchronized textual transcript (closed captioning), and audio announcements should have a synchronized text presentation (when AOL announces that "you have mail," does the capability exist for a user to enable a text-based window that makes that announcement?).
So, how do you determine if your Web site, or any Web site for that matter, is handicapped accessible? And if it is not, what can you do about it?
CAST offers this service and it is free of charge. They developed Bobby, which is a Web-based tool that analyzes Web pages for their accessibility by people with disabilities. Bobby was created as a "free public service in order to further its mission to expand opportunities for people with disabilities through the innovative uses of computer technology."
To analyze a Web site simply access Bobby (www.cast.org/bobby), enter the URL of the Web site you want to examine and click on Submit. In a few moments Bobby will display a report indicating any accessibility or browser compatibility errors it finds on those pages. Bobby compares the Web Accessibility Initiative’s (WAI) Page Authoring Guidelines (www.w3.org/WAI/GL) with what is presented on the Web pages in question.
By the way, Bobby is also available as an application, which will run on Windows 95/98/NT, Macintosh, Unix, Solaris and some generic platforms. The Web-based version of Bobby is only able to examine Web pages that are available on-line; Bobby cannot see Web pages that are only available on an intranet, are in development on a personal computer, or are located behind a firewall. The application version of Bobby is designed to run on a personal computer, thus will allow examination of an otherwise Web inaccessible site/pages. The Bobby application can be downloaded from: www.cast.org/bobby/download.html.
Both the application version and the Web-based version of Bobby’s accessibility report consists of seven sections in which the errors are broken down into three "Priority Levels."
"Priority 1" designates accessibility errors that seriously affect the Web page’s usability by people with disabilities. A Bobby-approved rating, which indicates conformance with WAI guidelines, can only be granted to a site in which none of the pages have accessibility errors. CAST states that the Bobby software is very user friendly, just "clicking on any of the problems that are reported will produce a more detailed description of how to fix the problem." In addition to items that Bobby can examine automatically, "a number of items require manual examination." For example, ALT entries are always questioned as to whether or not the ALT description itself provides an accurate text representation of the graphic in question. If a Web site passes all the tests at this level it is entitled to display the Bobby approved icon.
"Priority 2" designates accessibility errors thatshould be fixed. CAST states that although "Priority 2 access errors not as vital as Priority 1 access errors, deficiencies at this level are considered important for access." There are items presented in this category that also require manual examination. If a site passes all items in this section, a Web page then meets Conformance Level AA for the Web Content Guidelines. According to CAST, "this is the preferred minimum conformance level for an accessible site, even though it is not considered part of [the] Bobby [approval process]."
"Priority 3" errors are those needing manual examination of possible error (e.g., does the page present ASCII art). Passing all items in this section certifies a Web site as having Conformance Level AAA under the WAI’s Web Content Guidelines.
Bobby also reports "browser compatibility" issues (such as HTML elements and element attributes that are not valid for particular browsers), and "download/transfer times" for the Web page and it objects (e.g., graphics, video clips, audio clips).
CAST’s Web site also includes a how-to-run-Bobby documentation (www.cast.org/bobby/howto.html). There is also a comprehensive Bobby FAQ sheet (www.cast.org/bobby/faq.html). This 16-page document answers a myriad of questions; and will prove to be very helpful and informative.
While this is all interesting information and may be beyond the technical capability of many of us, it may be a bit to technical. To overcome this ‘disability’ the Bobby evaluation report offers explicit suggestions to remediate any errors. In most cases, Bobby will present the actual HTML code that is needed to offset a problem or it will provide directions whereby you can edit the HTML code. If your site ‘passes muster’ and is thereby entitled to display the Bobby-approved icon, Bobby will display source code that can be pasted in one’s Web page code in order for you to display the icon and a savable Bobby-approved icon to download.
Rob Reilly Ed.D. is the Computer Education teacher in the Lanesborough (Mass.) Elementary School. He is also a Visiting Scientist at the MIT Media Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His e-mail address is: email@example.com
Relevant Archive Site: The trace.wisc.edu site houses a substantial compendium of Web sites and documents relevant to the design of Web site accessibility. The Trace Web Access Page is located at: www.trace.wisc.edu/world/web/
Validation Service: CAST states that while "Bobby finds HTML elements and element attributes that are not compatible across browsers… this is a different type of analysis... Bobby does not check for valid document structure. While it will find incorrect HTML elements and element attributes for specific browsers, it doesn't look for things like two HEAD sections in an HTML document, or the necessity of placing a concluding </UL> tag after a <UL> tag, etc. For validation, we recommend using several other tools that are available free on the net." The W3C’s HTML Validation Service is located at: validator.www.w3.org
General ADA Information: The US Department of Justice has a substantial collection of information in regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is located at: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/adahom1.htm