RampWEB, a web and software accessibility company

Accessibility Guidelines

The Internet is being transformed from static information to dynamic applications allowing users to:

  • View government communications
  • View government services
  • Vote online
  • Shopping online
  • Banking online
  • Take correspondence education classes online

The community of people with disabilities cannot participate due to inaccessible web design. Disability rights laws demand equal access to information and online services. This has lead to the formulation of accessible web design standards.

Global Standards and Guidelines

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has created a group Web Accessibility Initiative that is responsible for writing; through a voluntary industry consensus; the standards to address web accessibility. The first version was released in May 1999 and is organized into three priority levels.

  • Priority 1 guidelines are those which must be met for a page to be accessible
  • Priority 2 guidelines should be met
  • Priority 3 guidelines may be met

These guidelines should serve as a basis for organizations setting standards for Web accessibility:

United States

The American Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 form the basis of the laws governing the discrimination of people with disabilities. Everyone developing web sites, needs to understand disability rights laws impacting this technology and access to information and the legal liability for ignoring this issue!

The American Disabilities Act of 1990

The American Disabilities Act prohibits the discrimination based on disability in private employment, all state and local government agencies, places of public accommodation and mandates accessibility of communications services. All business of 15 or more employees are required to make reasonable accommodations so their buildings and information are accessible to employees who have disabilities. It does not however identify specific requirements to make electronic information technology accessible but there has been a lawsuit that was filed to consider the Internet as a public facility and therefore subject to ADA accessibility requirements. For more information see, NCD position paper on the applicability of the ADA to the Web.

Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act

The Telecommunications Act requires that telecommunication manufacturers and customer premises equipment as well as vendors of telecommunication services make their products and services accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

Section 508

Section 508 requires all US federal agencies to make their information technology accessible to their employees and customers with disabilities. Starting in June 2001, all new IT equipment and services purchased by federal agencies must be accessible. Customers must be able to access information available to the public. The law also gives federal employees and members of the public the right to sue if the government agency does not provide comparable access to the information and data available to people without disabilities. Section 508 also applies to Web sites that are produced for government agencies. All state agencies and vendors, whether US or foreign, that receive federal funds under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 are also required to comply with Section 508 requirements.