'Accessibility' Standards Released

WASHINGTON (03/31/2000) - Animation and graphics wouldn't be banned from U.S. government World Wide Web sites under proposed new standards for information technology. But the information the objects convey would have to be provided in formats usable by the visually impaired.

The long-awaited standards for federal electronic technology and IT are being published today. They require the government's electronic equipment buyers and Web page managers to pay much more attention to ensuring that equipment and Internet sites can be used by everyone.

From computers and copying machines to software and networks, IT bought by federal agencies would have to be "accessible" by disabled people. In many cases, that means minor changes. For example, color-coded buttons would still be permitted on office machines as long as there is an acceptable way beside color to tell "on" from "off."

Equipment with interactive functions that require a response would have to permit adequate time for disabled users to respond. And touch-activated buttons on machines would have to be responsive to prosthetics. Programs that are typically operated with a mouse would also have to operable from a keyboard.

The proposed standards "are not too difficult," said an official of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board. "They are fairly fair and balanced."

A key concern while the standards were being written was how the board, which is also called the Access Board, would deal with Web pages. Generally, the board says that information provided on Web pages must be provided in ways that can be accessed by the disabled. For example, hidden "tags" attached to graphics and other elements should contain information describing the visual elements, the standards say.

Because such "text-only options" operate faster and consume less memory, they also will benefit users who want to retrieve information on cell phones and digital assistants, the board noted.

The Access Board will accept comments on the standards for 60 days. The board then may revise the standards and publish them in final form as part of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

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