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129

THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 129, July 9, 2001
SHAME, SHAME, SHAME!

Dollars Down the Web

by Jeff Elkins
jeffelkins@earthlink.net

Special to TLE

We've all been hearing about last-minute Clinton executive orders: Arsenic levels in the water, federal land grabs and all the other ticking time bombs prepared for the Bush administration. Did you know that an executive order was issued concerning federal web site design and that it has the potential to cost millions of our hard-earned tax dollars in web site re-coding?

It all has to do with a stealth Presidential Memorandum issued July 26, 2000, requiring all agencies to "make all programs offered on their Internet and Intranet sites accessible to people with disabilities by July 27, 2001, consistent with the requirements of [sections 501, 504, and 508 of] the Act and subject to the availability of appropriations and technology."

This little known order is called: The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards, Section 1194.22

Specifically, it relates to Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/508/

Quoting from the order:

"In order to be accessible according to Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, all web pages must conform to paragraphs a through p (summarized below) of section 1194.22. Note: if web pages already conform to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0, level A."

"A web site required to be accessible by Section 508, would be in complete compliance if it met paragraphs a through p of these standards." (extracted from the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards Final Rule as published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2000)"

The checklist for compliance is a ten page Microsoft Word document and without going into obscure detail, it contains literally hundreds of requirements to make federal web pages accessible to the disabled, specifically for the blind and deaf.

Of particular concern to federal officials are online forms and documents rendered exclusively in Adobe's portable document format or Microsoft's PowerPoint format.

This means that all federal web pages will have to be checked with a screen reader (several are suggested in the compliance document) until they process without glitches or provide a pathway to a alternate page that will. Any federal web page that utilizes sound will have to provide a text equivalent. In effect, this means that millions of web pages will require re-coding.

Additionally, the Department of Education has already provided a 5-year, $7.5 million grant to the Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Rehabilitation Technology. This grant will provide "training and technical assistance on universal design to technology manufacturers, product designers, and purchasers of information technology." This grant was issued specifically to aid in the implementation of this presidential order.

Prior to the shift in administrations, Bill Lann Lee, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of United States Department of Justice spearheaded implementation of the order.

It is already being put into effect by most federal agencies and the military, which are feverishly working to meet the July 27, 2001 deadline. They won't make it. However, the CIA and other organs of national security are exempt.

Section 508 applies only to "non-operational" portions of a web site. In other words, if a web page provides a non-static service, such as dynamic updates on weather, it's exempt. If the page is purely informational and/or static it must be made compliant. The vast majority of pages would be classified as "non-informational." Without a doubt, we are talking about millions and millions of pages.

The Access Board (Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) published its standards implementing section 508 on December 21, 2000 at almost at the end of the Clinton Administration. Those standards don't take effect until June 21, 2001.

On August 7, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft will send a report to President Bush and the Congress. This report will summarize the extent to which electronic and information technology used by the Federal government is accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities and the steps being taken by federal agencies as a whole for achieving compliance with Section 508.

Thus far, the total cost for this effort is unknown. As you can imagine, it can be nothing less than many millions of dollars in man hours, new hardware and other ancillary costs. Do we truly have enough disabled persons using federal web sites to justify the money spent? I don't think so.


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