Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

FC: Justice Department crackdown on web site content

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date:          Fri, 30 Apr 1999 14:43:59 -0400
From:          Declan McCullagh <>
Subject:       FC: Justice Department crackdown on web site content

[This is one of the most important stories to come along in a while.
Adam's article is very much worth reading. How will news organizations
-- or any site -- handle government-manded restrictions on multiple
languages on one web page and restrictions on animated graphics? Of
course any reasonable person wants to be as considerate as possible of
folks with disabilities, but this would seem to go much too far.


Date: Fri, 30 Apr 1999 12:08:30 -0400
From: Adam Powell <>
Subject: DOJ crackdown on Web site content


New U.S. law requires Web sites to
                  become 'handicapped accessible' 

                  By Adam Clayton Powell III
                  World Center 


                   What do you think? Have your say in The Forum.

                  Webmasters, Uncle Sam
                  wants you to change your
                  Web site to make it more
                  accessible to those who
                  are blind, deaf and
                  otherwise disabled. And
                  for some, it's not a
                  suggestion: it's the law.

                  The new rules are
                  mandated by a
                  little-known provision,
                  Section 508 of the
                  Workforce Investment Act
                  enacted by Congress last

                  The new rules will apply
                  within a few months to all Web sites operated by
		  government agencies and by
                  anyone who does any business with the federal
                  government ^x and possibly
                  soon afterward to every Web site posted in the U.S.,
                  the government

                  Members of the federal Web site commission told
                  ZDNet yesterday that for
                  non-government-related sites in the U.S., the
                  guidelines would be voluntary, but
                  those who do not adopt them could soon face new
                  federal rules for all online

                  Under the new law, Web sites will be required to 
                  restructure their content,
                  design and underlying technologies to allow
                  "individuals with disabilities who are
                  members of the public seeking information or
                  services from a Federal
                  department or agency to have access to and use of
                  information and data that is
                  comparable to the access to and use of the
                  information and data by such
                  members of the public who are not individuals with

                  Exactly what that means will be spelled out by the
                  government next month,
                  when the commission established by the U.S.
                  Architectural and Transportation
                  Barriers Compliance Board publishes the new rules
                  for online publishing.
                  Provisions are expected to include a ban on any
                  audio without simultaneous
                  text and restrictions on animated graphics.

                  One preview of what the barrier board may publish
                  next month is contained in
                  its own notices, which state that, in addition to
                  conventional html and pdf
                  versions available online, all online information
                  must also be available from the
                  agency via audio text and TTY, as well as "cassette
                  tape, Braille, large print, or
                  computer disk."

                  The federal guidelines follow publication in the
                  Federal Register last summer of
                  the barrier board's intention to develop the new
                  rules. And in September, the
                  board announced that a new federal committee had
                  been appointed to help draft
                  the new requirements and that the committee would
                  begin meeting the following

                  Most of the committee members were representatives
                  of people with
                  disabilities, including such groups as the American
                  Council of the Blind, the
                  American Foundation for the Blind, Easter Seals, the
                  National Association of
                  the Deaf, the National Federation of the Blind and
                  United Cerebral Palsy
                  Association. Also included were three members from
                  the computer industry,
                  representing IBM, Microsoft and NCR.

                  The announcement also disclosed that the barrier
                  board would draft the
                  guidelines with a "less formal, but certainly no
                  less important, ad hoc
                  committee," whose members were not disclosed.

                  Members of the committee asserted that the federal
                  government has power to
                  regulate the form and content of online information
                  ^x as opposed to print,
                  where the government does not have such power ^x
                  because the federal
                  government paid for the development of the Internet.

                  "The Internet is subject to market forces, but it
                  didn't start through market
                  forces, it was started by the federal government,"
                  said Jenifer Simpson, a
                  committee member and manager of technology
                  initiatives at the President's
                  Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities,
                  in an interview with Ziff
                  Davis. Simpson added that the rights of the disabled
                  must prevail over other

                  "This is really a civil rights issue," she said.

                  And if online publishers decline to adopt the
                  committee's new guidelines
                  voluntarily, the guidelines could become mandatory
                  under federal law for all
                  Web sites, according to Simpson and to Judy Brewer,
                  another committee
                  member who is also director of the Web Access

                  The new law applies to a broad range of Web,
                  Internet and electronic storage,
                  transmission and retrieval hardware and software
                  technologies, specifically "any
                  equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of
                  equipment, that is used
                  in the automatic acquisition, storage, manipulation,
                  management, movement,
                  control, display, switching, interchange,
                  transmission, or reception of data or

                  U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, in her memorandum
                  on the new law,
                  included in the definition of covered technologies
                  "computers (such as
                  hardware, software, and accessible data such as web
                  pages), facsimile
                  machines, copiers, telephones, and other equipment
                  used for transmitting,
                  receiving, using, or storing information."

                  The attorney general also announced the creation of
                  a federal Web site,
        , accessible only from government
                  computers, to help
                  Webmasters ascertain whether they are in compliance
                  with the new law. From
                  outside of a .gov or .mil domain, users were today
                  greeted by a 403 error code,
                  reading "Forbidden. You don't have permission to
                  access / on this server."

                  Last month, the WAI published its own set of
                  proposed guidelines that could be
                  adopted into federal law.

                  The first guideline requires Web sites to supply
                  text alternatives for all images
                  and graphics.

                  "Thus, a text equivalent for an image of an upward
                  arrow that links to a table of
                  contents could be 'Go to table of contents'," the
                  provision reads.

                  A second provision bars the use of color to convey
                  information, because
                  "people who cannot differentiate between certain
                  colors and users with devices
                  that have non-color or non-visual displays will not
                  receive the information."

                  Other requirements prescribe punctuation and
                  prohibit using multiple languages
                  on the same page, because that can hinder
                  translation by Braille readers,
                  discourage the "use (or misuse)" of tables and other
                  formatting that "makes it
                  difficult for users with specialized software to
                  understand the organization of the
                  page or to navigate through it."

                  Another provision requires Webmasters to "ensure
                  that moving, blinking,
                  scrolling, or auto-updating objects or pages may be
                  paused or stopped" and to
                  design all pages so they can be operated without a
                  mouse or other pointing

                  "Interaction with a document must not depend on a
                  particular input device such
                  as a mouse," reads the start of this provision.

                  Another Web site lets online publishers test their
                  sites using some of the 
                  suggested guidelines that soon may have the force of
                  federal law behind them.
                  The Center for Applied Special Technology has posted
                  free software it calls
                  Bobby, illustrated with an image of a jovial waving
                  policeman. That cheerful logo
                  doubles as a seal of approval that can be downloaded
                  and used by Web sites
                  that meet Bobby's accessibility guidelines.

                  Bobby flunked a number of widely used Web sites,
                  including the White House,
                  where the software identified "13 accessibility
                  problems that should be fixed in
                  order to make this page accessible to people with
                  disabilities." The software
                  also identified additional "accessibility questions"
                  regarding which the
                  Webmaster should "check each item carefully."

                  Unless those problems were fixed, warned the
                  software message, the White
                  House Web site "will not be approved by Bobby."

                  Bobby may be waving with his right hand, but in his
                  left hand, not visible in the
                  logo, may be a billy club ^x Section 508.

                  So, White House, be forewarned: Starting next year,
                  any individual anywhere in
                  the U.S. will be able bring suit under Section 508
                  against offending Web sites
                  operated by a government agency or by anyone who
                  does business with the

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