Huge news! The very long awaited “Section 508 Refresh” was officially published in the U.S. Federal Register January 18, 2017. The new rules, officially known as the “Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Final Standards and Guidelines”, are also documented on the U.S. Access Board’s website.
As before, the rules pertain to “electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by Federal agencies covered by section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.”
As anticipated, the web-based portion of the refresh adopts WCAG 2.0 AA.
The rules go into effect in 60 days from publication, which is March 20. Compliance is not required for one year—January 18, 2018.
It’s important to note that legacy content is excused. Through a “Safe Harbor” provision, content published before March 20 is not required to comply with the new rules but still must comply with the previous Section 508 requirements.
The refresh also includes “telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment covered by Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934.”
Unbelievable and embarrassing. Is this a new low for CAPTCHA and also for the White House? Let me explain.
In order to sign an online petition by the White House to make books globally accessible to the blind, one must register an account. The fail point is that to register, one must complete a Captcha and the audio version is indecipherable. Therefore, blind folks cannot sign a petition advocating equality for the blind!
A very sad irony.
Here’s an example of the audio Captcha required to decipher in order to register to complete the petition. Because it’s impossible to decipher, the website does not meet Section 508 requirements as the White House claims.
Unfortunately there is still no clear solution to the Captcha accessibility and usability issues. For now it seems a combination of other techniques (see links below) is the best way to go.
Articles on Captcha alternatives:
Last month (March 2012), Disability.gov (@DisabilityGov) relaunched its website; there is an announcement in its newsletter. I discovered this actually by coming across an article posted on Twitter, A Look behind the Scenes – Part I: Making Disability.gov Accessible which discusses considerations made when developing an accessible website.
Naturally, this peaked my curiosity and was compelled to investigate. I found mixed results. Every website, no matter how great the foundation, is a work in progress and could use improvements. Disability.gov is no exception. Here’s my review of the home page.
- Heading usage needs improvement. Currently no H1 and only two H2 elements, nothing else. Besides the H1, suggest at least adding headings for the featured/slide content and the Connect section at bottom.
- In very top section, the elements are keyboard accessible which is great, but the visual placement of print button is out of tab order which makes it a little confusing. (On other pages, three added text links in this area compound the problem.)
- I like the implementation of the search form (besides the 1 extra span in the markup). It uses a visually hidden label and an HTML5 placeholder attribute.
- High contrast controls are good as the input label and submit button are included. But there are a few issues; the first two mesh with usability. (High contrast is the second of three main features listed on the site’s accessibility statement.)
- It seems that “Full Graphics” is a poor choice of words for the default state. After all, both states have the graphics.
- There are only two options, so why have a select dropdown? Unless more options are planned, I suggest using two simple radio options or a single checkbox option.
- While in high contrast mode, text links in the featured/slide content are unreadable (yellow on white).
- About the feedback modal/overlay window:
- After opening, the focus is managed and the feature is keyboard accessible, which is super. But the “Save” button is misleading and confusing. It should simply be “Submit”; the user is not saving the selection for later, but actually submitting his or her response.
- After closing the feedback modal/overlay window, the keyboard focus is lost. When closing, suggest placing focus on control that opened it (the button “Tell us what you think”).
- The feedback is missing a submit button (and the button “Tell us what you think” should not be present).
- The featured/slide content doesn’t degrade well. Most of the slide sections are still visually hidden with no controls to view.
- There is a visual hover/focus indicator for text links, which is great, but should be more prominent (more obvious, too subtle); it’s currently dark blue text which changes to purple text.
- The links under Information by Topic have a lot of content in the title attribute. If the content is that long, and especially if it’s important to the user (not “supplementary”), then title attributes are not the best solution.
- Under News and Events, a title attribute is fine for links in new window, but also need visual indication (icon) and/or include “new window” in anchor (and possibly hide off screen).
- It’s good practice to declare a language in the HTML element with the lang attribute, in this case, lang=”en-us”.
- The text-resize widget works, but I see two issues (this is the third of three main features listed on the site’s accessibility statement):
- The text-resize widget doesn’t resize text specifically; it makes the whole design larger, which is basically the same as browsers’ page zoom feature. So why have the widget? Recommend replacing with real text-size functionality since browsers bury this feature or don’t provide it at all anymore.
- The hover/focus state of the options in the text-resize widget is so subtle (purple instead of black) that it’s very difficult to notice the change.
- The options in the “Add This” flyout provides visual feedback with the mouse hover, but is missing keyboard focus.
After completing this review, I unfortunately wouldn’t agree with the claim in the footer that the Disability.gov website adheres to WCAG 2 level AA.
The site’s accessibility statement states:
If you experience any technical problems or have issues with accessibility, please contact dgovdeveloper AT devis DOT com with your feedback, and we’ll do our best to respond to your concerns.
I have emailed a link to a link to this blog and hope more improvements can be made soon. -Dennis
Below are suggestions for improving the web accessibility of the new United States government Section 508 web site. Well, from analyzing the home page at least. This is basic stuff and I’m very disappointed that the site leaves so much to be desired. The site, which is U.S. government law with rules for web accessibility, should itself be an example of an accessible web site. And with the recent ADA anniversary, this was a great opportunity to move forward in the field of web accessibility. But instead, unfortunately, this was a failed attempt. The U.S. government has a lot of work to do.
- No headings! Not one. Need headings in markup, period. There are many headings indicated visually, but inappropriately coded such as using strong or div tags.
- Labels for text inputs are incorrect; there’s a label tag, but no text label! See the search text and email address for news signup.
- Alternative text for many images need improvement such as removing “Graphic for”. Better yet, do not use a graphic when it’s not needed; text is fine in the following two cases. (Losing the inline style would also be good.)
- Example 1:
- Example 2:
- No keyboard focus to match mouse hover effect. In addition, a hover & focus could be added in several places to make it more usable, such as the first-level items in the left/main navigation menu.
- No ARIA implemented, not even landmark roles to help with navigation.
- Links such as “read more >>” have no context; not unique. Also recommend removing the “>” character (better to use CSS for these types of markers/symbols).
- Text links are not clear. The underlines are removed and dark blue not distinct enough from black text.
- Redundant title attributes must go! I’m so tired of seeing this. It’s not useful but on the contrary gets in the way; and it creates code bloat. Example:
- Horizontal scrollbars in 1024 resolution. Need better resizing/width design.
- Lots of CSS in header (and inline); much better to use external file.
- Why display the date? Just adds to cluttered screen.
- Conditional comment for IE6 CSS should be in head, not body.
- Text resizing tool not needed; let the browser do this! And clutters screen.
- Some navigation items use lists while others do not.
- Image need better optimization/compression. One image alone in the slider feature is over 150k and can easily be compressed to 35k.
- 67 XHTML validation errors.
Today, just 3 working days after my critique of the CA.gov Accessibility page was published, the CA.gov Accessibility page has been updated! Some of the point discussed were removed and other modified. As for the site itself, the “skip to content” is now visible when tabbed upon. Hooray!
Also, a couple of interesting links were added to the “related sites” at the bottom of the page: Accessible Twitter and California’s Accessibility Standards.