Cryptzone Helps Moves the Dial on Web Accessibility
Last week was a busy week in Washington, DC for me. After getting in late on Monday night, I drove up to the Penn State Web Conference the next morning to talk about how to review wireframes for accessibility. This is a really important topic because accessibility problems are so much easier and less expensive to fix early in the design process— yet most consultants only talk about fixing accessibility problems after the fact when they are much more expensive and disruptive to fix. It’s strange that Cryptzone is one of the only companies promoting this topic. Each time we present on this subject, it goes really well— and this time was no exception. Immediately after I finished, I jumped back in my car for the long drive back to DC.
The next morning, I was up early again. This time presenting to Cryptzone’s Federal User Group on how to prepare for the upcoming Section 508 standards. Whenever the Federal agencies buy information or communication technologies, they have to make sure that these technologies meet the Section 508 standards. The U.S. Access Board is currently in the rule-making process for the next version of the Section 508 standards.
To say that the rules are controversial is an understatement. While they are far-reaching and groundbreaking in a number of ways, the biggest challenge is that the draft rules apply the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Levels A and AA to software and electronic documents. I’ve blogged before about how WCAG was never intended to apply outside the web context and how it is a very poor fit to these other technologies.
The Access Board provides hardly any substantive guidance on how to map WCAG to software and electronic documents. I explained to the Federal User Group that there actually was a basic way to perform this mapping by using EN 301-549, a recently developed European accessibility standard. To ensure that this made sense, I talked about the history of Section 508 and parallel efforts in Europe around digital accessibility. With this background, it was clear that EN 301-549 was the best possible approach to applying WCAG to software and electronic documents.
While this may sound terribly abstract, it will have very far-reaching effects in the Federal government. For instance, a contractor creating a sexual harassment training program for a Federal agency will need to make sure that the PowerPoint files complied to WCAG’s 38 A and AA web accessibility standards— and I think it’s highly unlikely that such a contractor will have any expertise in Web accessibility. Without clear guidance (like that provided in EN 301-549), there’s a large possibility that the contractor will get it wrong. Also, without clear guidance, a Federal agency wouldn’t know how to evaluate if its training file met the standards— and if it didn’t, that agency could become the target of litigation. This is very consistent with my recent public comments to the U.S. Access Board on the new Section 508 NPRM and with my oral testimony during the Access Board’s hearings.
After I submitted my comments on the Access Board’s website, another accessibility blogger searched me out on the Internet and posted that, of the 135 comments received from industry, disability groups, academia, and public, I got his “vote as the best comment submitted on the NPRM” and he “strongly recommended” that interested readers download and read all 26 pages of my comments!
After my presentation, Christine Peck, Executive Director for the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) talked about the IAAP’s key role in digital accessibility. Cryptzone is a Founding Member of the IAAP and I’m on the Board of Directors for IAAP. The organization addresses the need for professionalizing the field of accessibility which has been sorely needed in both IT accessibility and traditional “bricks and mortar” accessibility for over 20 years.
After Christine’s presentation, we headed over to IAAP’s offices to get down to business as I was invited to DC by the IAAP to help develop its certification program. Among the different Board members, I’ve been particularly vocal in the urgency to create a great certification program and, being the only lawyer on the Board, I also add a valuable angle around legal compliance that will be a key part to the certification program.
One of the neat things about my job at Cryptzone is that I’m encouraged to do something I love – wear a bunch of different hats and apply my different domains of expertise. Because I’m a bit of a techie and helped develop the original Section 508 standards, I sometimes talk about coding techniques and UX design principles. At the same time, I have a long history as a disability rights attorney, so I also get singled out to talk about legal compliance issues, policies, and regulatory development. Lastly, I’ve been around accessibility for a very long time in both the built environment and IT world so I sometimes get asked to talk about how accessibility is addressed differently in the digital and bricks-and-mortar world.
I think this works really well with the company’s philosophy of providing solutions that work across a number of key domains and business needs instead of being shoved into a single shoebox. It’s also just a lot more fun and it sure keeps us busy!