Wednesday, December 01, 2010

US Revising Web Accessibility Rules

The US Department of Justice is considering regulations on providing web accessibility for people with disabilities. Submissions close 24 January 2011:
The Department of Justice (Department) is considering revising the regulations implementing title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA or Act) in order to establish requirements for making the goods, services, facilities, privileges, accommodations, or advantages offered by public accommodations via the Internet, specifically at sites on the World Wide Web (Web), accessible to individuals with disabilities. The Department is also considering revising the ADA's title II regulation to establish requirements for making the services, programs, or activities offered by State and local governments to the public via the Web accessible. The Department is issuing this advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) in order to solicit public comment on various issues relating to the potential application of such requirements and to obtain background information for the regulatory assessment the Department must prepare if it were to adopt requirements that are economically significant according to Executive Order 12866.

From: Summary, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations, Proposed Rule, Justice Department , USA, 07/26/2010
Something similar is happening in Australia. The Australian Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Australian Governmental Information Management Office (AGIMO) are considering what to do with version 2.0 of the Web
Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Two issues are:
  1. WCAG2 web guidance: WCAG 2 is intended to apply more broadly than just to web sites, so more detailed guidance is needed for web design.
  2. PDF Accessibility: Current HRC and AGIMO advice is at an alternative to PDF documents is required (preferably in HTML). This is under review, but from comments at recent meetings, it appears likely that this will not change.
These issues were discussed at two meetings in Canberra, in October and November.

The case "Bruce Lindsay Maguire v. Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games 2000" established that anti-discrimination law applies to web sites in Australia. I was one of the expert witnesses for the case. An overview of the issues is in a presentation I gave to the Beijing 2000 Olympic Committee.

In practical terms, what I do day to day in designing university courses is to use HTML based materials and avoid the use of PDF. I use very plain, very structured web pages. This is now much easier to do using tools like the Moodle Learning Management System, but still requires the author to understand wht they are doing. I create reading materials in the Moodle Book module, which as well as aiding accessibility, can be converted to e-book formats for use
on smart phones and iPads

The Australian Government has recently adopted Creative Commons. My hope is that at the same time they can be encouraged to produce accessible web based documents, including using HTML based e-book formats, rather than large lumps of PDF. I will be teaching public employees this in an
new course at the Australian National University from January 2011: Electronic Data Management: COMP7420.

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