NC State University’s Response to the DOJ ANPRM

http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2010/07/26/2010-18334/nondiscrimination-on-the-basis-of-disability-accessibility-of-web-information-and-services-of-state

Question 1

Should the Department adopt the WCAG 2.0’s “Level AA Success Criteria” as its standard for Web site accessibility for entities covered by titles II and III of the ADA? Is there any reason why the Department should consider adopting another success criteria level of the WCAG 2.0? Please explain your answer.

Response to Question 1

WCAG 2.0 Level AA, an international standard, is an adequate conformance level for Web Sites to meet under ADA, however, it is equally important to harmonize the ADA requirements with the newly proposed Section 508 requirements, which also happen to be WCAG 2.0 Level AA.  It is important to have only one standard to which web site developers must adhere.  If there are competing standards then adoption of the standards is greatly hindered.  Additionally, WCAG 2.0 has been designed to be technology-neutral, so it is well adapted to dealing with changes in technology.

As for the levels of conformance within WCAG 2.0, it is not recommended to require Level AAA.  In the WCAG documentation, in Note 2 in the section “Conformance Level” at http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/#conformance-reqs it states, “It is not recommended that Level AAA conformance be required as a general policy for entire sites because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Level A conformance does not go far enough in some basic areas of accessibility, like requiring captioning of live events (http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/#media-equiv) and providing basic levels of color contrast (http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/#visual-audio-contrast), that are already expected in making Web sites accessible.

An additional standard to consider adopting is the World Wide Web Consortium’s  (W3C) Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (ATAG) standards.  This standard enumerates the functionality that is required in software that creates Web pages in order to ensure that pages are accessible.  ATAG assists content creators in creating accessible content without having to know the technical implementation details of making accessible web sites.

Question 2

Should the Department adopt the section 508 standards instead of the WCAG guidelines as its standard for Web site accessibility under titles II and III of the ADA? Is there a difference in compliance burdens and costs between the two standards? Please explain your answer.

Response to Question 2

It is critical to have a single set of standards by which to comply.  The draft of the updated Section 508 standards does conform to WCAG 2.0 Level AA.  If there are multiple Federal standards, compliance  will be more difficult among Web site developers.

Question 4

Given the ever-changing nature of many Web sites, should the Department adopt performance standards instead of any set of specific technical standards for Web site accessibility? Please explain your support for or opposition to this option. If you support performance standards, please provide specific information on how such performance standards should be framed.

Response to Question 4

While the intent of WCAG 2.0 Level AA is to provide equal access to Web sites for all people, it is possible to create a Web site that conforms to WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards yet is still quite unusable to people with certain types of disabilities.  At a minimum, the new requirements should include a statement such as, “Tasks on Web sites should be able to be completed with a similar time-on-task for all people, regardless of disability, with or without a reasonable accommodation.”  This will help ensure that a Web site will, in addition to meeting the technical requirements of accessibility, will also be equally usable by all.

Question 6

What resources and services are available to public accommodations and public entities to make their Web sites accessible? What is the ability of covered entities to make their Web sites accessible with in-house staff? What technical assistance should the Department make available to public entities and public accommodations to assist them with complying with this rule?

Response to Question 6

There are many resources available to make their Web sites accessible.  The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), producers of the WCAG 2.0 standards, provides overviews, guidelines and techniques for making sites accessible.  Other non-profit agencies, like WebAIM (http://webaim.org/) provide additional guidelines, techniques, and tools for creating accessible Web sites.  Additionally, there are many freely available tutorials and techniques that can be found by doing simple Internet searches for them.  There are also many for-profit entities that provide consulting services to make sites accessible.  If WCAG 2.0 Level AA becomes required for Title III entities, one of the potential hurdles early on could be the number of qualified consulting services available.

Question 7

Are there distinct or specialized features used on Web sites that render compliance with accessibility requirements difficult or impossible?

Response to Question 7

Some highly interactive collaborative Web sites can be problematic in trying to create an equivalent experience for some people with certain types of disabilities.  For example, a collaborative work space, like Google Docs (http://docs.google.com/), can have multiple people modifying a document in multiple locations all at once.  WCAG 2.0, Guideline 2.2.1 Level A (http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/#time-limits) requires users to have “enough time to read and use the content.”  From a technical perspective, this can be difficult if the contents of a document are changing in multiple locations very rapidly.

For instance, if a document starts in state A, then is modified by outside users to state B, then later modified to another state C by outside users, all within the manner of 60 seconds, it will be difficult for some people to follow all of the changes in real-time.  A person might be using an assistive technology to read state A of the document, and by the time they finish reading it the document might have changed to state C, thus making it so the user never knows about state B.  There are technical solutions that partially solve this problem, such as letting users view all previous states of the document, but that might necessitate the user not being able to participate in real-time with other users.

Compounding the problem is that it is not always easy to usefully delineate state A from B and C.  There are often multiple changes between A, B, and C, but there are only certain points in that continuum of change that are actually useful.

Question 8

Given that most Web sites today provide significant amounts of services and information in a dynamic, evolving setting that would be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate through alternative, accessible means, to what extent can accessible alternatives still be provided? Might viable accessible alternatives still exist for simple, non-dynamic Web sites?

Response to Question 8

The number of, and type of Web sites that would fit this criteria should be kept at an absolute minimum.  Even the most complex Web site can be made partially accessible using established techniques.

Question 14

What are the benefits that can be anticipated from action by the Department to amend the ADA regulations to address Web site accessibility? Please include anticipated benefits for individuals with disabilities, businesses, and other affected parties, including benefits that cannot be fully monetized or otherwise quantified.

Response to Question 14

The benefits to people with disabilities are obvious, namely allowing them to fully participate in a society that has moved significantly to online modes of interaction and information.  As more societal interactions and functions move online, ensuring accessibility becomes even more essential.

Question 15

What, if any, are the likely or potential unintended consequences (positive or negative) of Web site accessibility requirements? For example, would the costs of a requirement to provide captioning to videos cause covered entities to provide fewer videos on their Web sites?

Response to Question 15

One of the unintended positive consequences is that as Web sites become more accessible the Web sites will also become more usable to all.  Web accessibility  is really a subset of the field of Web usability, which strives to make Web sites more usable by all.

Another positive consequence of applying these standards to Title III entities is that it will be easier for Title II entities to do business with Title III entities.  Currently, if a Title II entity must interact with a Title III entity who does not provide accessible Web access, a basic risk-management decision must be made to decide whether or not to do business with them.  This is true despite the fact that Title II entities are already required to adhere to Federal accessibility standards.