Award Winning Web Site Designs Warning

Award Winning Web Site Designs

A very important web accessibility precedent
for legal damages has now been established!

Ramada and web sites were
penalized $40,000 and $37,500 respectively

Text of news release from the Office of New York State
Attorney General Elliot Spitzer dated August 19, 2004

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer today announced settlements with two major travel web sites that will make the sites far more accessible to blind and visually impaired users.

The web sites, and, have agreed to implement a variety of accessibility standards that will permit users of assistive technology, such as screen reader software, to more easily navigate these web sites.

"Accessible web sites are the wave of the future and the right thing to do. We applaud these companies for taking responsible and proper steps to make their web sites accessible to the blind and visually impaired," Spitzer said. "We urge all companies who have not done so to follow their lead."

The Attorney General opined that the Americans With Disabilities Act requires that private web sites be accessible to blind and visually impaired Internet users. The ADA generally dictates that all "places of public accommodation" and all "goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations" of places of public accommodation, must be made accessible to disabled citizens, absent undue hardship. New York law provides similar civil rights protections.

Many blind and visually impaired individuals use assistive technology, such as "screen reader software," to operate computers and surf the Internet. Screen reader software converts text into speech and reads pages upon display -- usually from top to bottom and left to right, as if reading a book. To be accessible to the blind and visually impaired, a web site must utilize a computer code that is comprehensible to screen reader software.

During investigations conducted in 2003 and earlier this year, the Attorney General found that portions of the and web sites were not accessible to this type of assistive technology. Under the terms of the agreements, the companies will implement a range of accessibility standards authored by the Web Accessibility Initiative ("WAI") of the World Wide Web Consortium ("W3C"), an organization that recommends Internet standards. For instance, graphics and images must have comprehensible labels, tables must have appropriately placed row and column headers, and edit fields (boxes where the Internet user inputs information) which must be labeled to indicate which information is requested. The companies must also implement a wide variety of other initiatives, based on guidelines authored by the W3C.

Advocates for the visually impaired applauded the settlements.

"By implementing design standards that allow screen reader software and other assistive technology to function effectively with interactive web sites, companies will make tremendous strides in closing the "digital divide" for visually impaired users," said Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). "As the Internet continues to become an increasingly important tool for business, commerce, and leisure activities, it is imperative that all companies ensure their web sites are accessible for all users - including people who are blind or have low vision."

The Attorney General also extended his thanks to the American Foundation for the Blind, for its invaluable assistance, as well as to the Baruch College Computer Center for Visually Impaired People.

In addition to the steps outline above, and will pay the State of New York $40,000 and $37,500, respectively, as costs of the investigation. The Attorney General emphasized that once the companies were notified of the accessibility issues by his office, they worked cooperatively and creatively with his Internet Bureau to correct the issues.

Both cases were handled by Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Nieliwocki of the Attorney General's Internet Bureau, under the direction of Kenneth Dreifach, Chief of that bureau, with assistance from the Civil Rights Bureau.

The above information was found at New York State Government web site.

Accessibility And The Web

By Gary Morrison, Contributing Writer (Web Pro News)

This week I walked passed a company building a wheelchair ramp to facilitate access to its building for people unable to climb the stairs. I wondered why the company had taken so long to put in a ramp, anyone in a wheelchair would have had a hard time entering the premises.

Would the company have made this decision if it were not obliged by law to do so? In terms of the internet, accessibility for people with certain kinds of disabilities is a major issue.

In terms of the law, the issue of accessibility and the internet has taken a major knock with the recent ruling in the US when a federal judge ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990) applies only to physical spaces such as restaurants and movie theatres and not the Internet. This case was as a result of a blind man called Robert Gumson who tried to compel Southwest airlines to redesign its Web site to improve accessibility.

For many companies their web site is a significant public face. Many people might not notice that a site has not been designed with accessibility in mind, but for those with disabilities this omission is painfully obvious.

While the internet is a great leveler for many types of disabilities for others it presents unique challenges. The implications for blind people and those with very poor eyesight are fairly obvious, for a great number of people with dyslexia, reading and learning disorders the implications are less obvious but very real.

Catering for the needs of people with disabilities online makes good business sense because it increases the number of visitors to a site which increases the likelihood of selling a product or service, it improves the image of the company because it is seen to be in line with best practice.

If one thinks of the wheelchair ramp - it is of vital importance to the person in a wheelchair but it will be widely used by people without disabilities as it is a convenient way of walking up levels, especially if you have a pram or a carrying something heavy.

A web site designed with accessibility in mind is good for everyone as it present choices. If one looks at the Browsealoud speech enabling service for example; A company pays for its site to be speech enabled, any user wanting to listen to the content of the site downloads the software which is free and is then able to browse the site and have text read as the cursor moves over it. For the dyslexic person this represents liberation from the painstaking ordeal of trying to make sense of text, for the site visitor without dyslexia they might choose to have the option of having large blocks of text read aloud rather than read it themselves. Accessibility usually means more options for everyone and greater ease of use for all.

It was not that long ago that many companies would have scoffed at being told they had to make their physical premises more accessible. In hindsight few would argue that improving accessibility has benefited everyone.

From a marketing strategy perspective making your web site accessible makes sense, while it might involve a measure of redesign and bit of money, the longer term rewards are obvious - it is also the right thing to do.

Story published here with permission of the author. It was origninally published on Novermber 11, 2002.

Accessibility is required on all Federal Government Web Sites

[Background from Federal Register: August 24, 1998 (Volume 63, Number 163)]

On August 7, the President signed into law the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which includes the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments requires that when Federal departments or agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, they shall ensure that the electronic and information technology allows Federal employees with disabilities to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of information and data by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency.

Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal department or agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities.

For more info, visit about Section 508 and see this page for an Section 508 FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).

IBM fined $20,000 (Australian) for accessibility problems on 2002 Olympics site?

The author of the book Building Accessible Websites, Joe Clark has put together a detailed review about what happened in the case of Macguire vs. SOCOG (Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games). Here's what happened in a nutshell.

To reiterate, in the case of Maguire vs. SOCOG, the little person won. While the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games acted in an arguably unprofessional and certainly a dismissive manner, the allegedly substantive reasons it advanced for denying accessibility were conclusively repudiated by Australian authorities and expert witnesses.

Curiously, IBM, SOCOG's Web contractor, maintains an accessibility Web site and a full-time staff who do nothing but work on software, hardware, and Web accessibility. IBM has a reasonably salutary record in accessibility products, having developed IBM Home Page Reader, a screen-reader analogue specialized for surfing the Web. Yet its partnership with SOCOG gave the appearance of a corrupting influence, making IBM complicit in SOCOG's actions in denying accessibility to blind users of its site.

To learn what was wrong, his web log (blog) has the details. Some of the links on there don't work now, but it is interesting reading and proof ignoring accessibility issues can be costly. For new info on accessibility standards, click the WaSP (Web Standards Project) graphic below.

Visit the Web Standards Project Home Page!

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