A Sea Change for Accessibility (Posted July 23, 2006)

There are some exciting changes in the air for accessibility in general and web accessibility in particular. Both WCAG and Section 508 will be revised, there is a key legal case relating to accessibility that has just been hears, and Google lets you search for accessible pages. Here is a brief synopsis of those developments together with links to get more detail.

WCAG 2.0

Version 2 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are nearing completion. Hundreds of comments have been submitted to the WCAG Working Group which is processing those comments. The Working Group has created a useful Quick Reference document for WCAG 2.0.

Section 508

The Section 508 Accessibility Standards which went into effect in June of 2001 will be revised. A Federal Advisory Committee has been formed to review and update those standards.

NFB vs Target

There was a hearing on July 23, 2006, in Superior Court of the State of California, Count of Alameda, relating to the suit of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) against Target Corporation (Case No.: C 06-01802 MHP). The suit has been brought by Disability Rights Advocates, in Berkeley, California. The hearing (and the Court) will address two motions. The first is Target's motion to dismiss, the other is the NFB motion for preliminary injunction. Other court cases involving the ADA and Web Accessibility have not yielded useful opinions as to whether public web sites are subject to ADA requirements for access by people with disabilities. This case probably will result in such an opinion. DRA has a discussion of the suit on their site. I am the expert witness for the Plaintiffs, and in that role have submitted a report on Accessibility of Target.com and a Declaration (tagged PDF) (HTML). The report is included as an exhibit at the end of that declaration. Chuck LeTourneau, Co-Chair of the the Working Group that produced Version 1 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is the expert witness for Target Corporation. Letourneau also submitted a declaration (untagged PDF) (HTML).

Google's Accessible Search

Perhaps the most surprising of these changes is the announcement by Google they have a new Google Accessible Search. That may sound like they have a search page and it is accessible. Well ... the label for the main search form is the text, "accessible search" with the style, display:none. This is a technique that works with screen readers, but I wonder why they didn't use the same title="accessible search" as they do on their main search page. From reading their Frequently Asked Questions about the Accessible Search, it seems that pages which are simpler and which conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines will placed high (early) in the search results. That being the case, it is troublesome to me that the Accessible Search page is highlighted as "Accessible Web Search for the Visually Challenged" - I would just leave out the awkward "for the Visually Challenged," or better call it "Google Search for Accessible Pages."

Accessible Search is a pet project of T.V. Raman. Formerly of IBM Research, Raman is the creator of Emacspeak, a complete audio desktop for Unix. In his Google blog post on the accessible search, Raman says that the results will be "prioritized based on their usability." More about the Accessible search on the Google Blogoscoped, in particular there is a simple interface to compare results of the accessible search and the normal search. For example, try searching for "google" there. Google's own search page doesn't appear in the top 10 under the accessible search.

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