Comments Submitted by
Director, Web Accessibility Initiative
World Wide Web Consortium
Submitted to the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance
Regarding the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on
Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards
published in the U.S. Federal Register Friday, March 31, 2000
36 CFR Part 1194
May 31, 2000
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)  on Section 508  of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. The following comments address sections of the NPRM relating to requirements for accessibility of the World Wide Web (hereafter "Web") for people with disabilities.
The Access Boards NPRM differs significantly from the recommendations of the U.S. Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (EITAAC, hereafter the "advisory committee") with regard to accessibility of the Web. In modifying the text of a number of provisions from the documents which the advisory committee originally recommended referencing, the Access Board changed the meaning of those provisions, sometimes subtly, sometimes substantially. In some cases the proposed provisions are more stringent than the material they are derived from; in other cases the provisions are more liberal or vague. In other instances there are significant gaps in accessibility provisions. A detailed analysis of the differences is available in Section 4 of these comments.
In diverging from evolving consensus on Web accessibility, the provisions in the NPRM have the effect of fragmenting the industry standard rather than harmonizing with voluntary consensus industry standards as advised by a U.S. Government directive. Should the proposed provisions go into effect as is, Sec. 508 would not only fail to take advantage of supporting provisions for accessibility in Web-based authoring tools, browsers, accessibility checkers, and existing training materials; but also complicate implementation of accessibility features in these products, potentially increasing the cost of compliance. An analysis of potential negative impact on implementation prospects due to this fragmentation of the standard is available in Section 5 of these comments.
The Access Board must set whatever regulations it feels best serve the public interest. But this commenter lists a number of "suggested actions" that would more closely harmonize the provisions of the final rule with the industry standard, and that would explicitly and accurately call out remaining differences in any instances where it was not possible to harmonize, to avoid violating W3C document use policy. These measures would reduce confusion by Web designers and Web-based software developers who must otherwise implement to multiple divergent standards. Such confusion, if unaddressed, could impede rather than expedite implementation of Web accessibility. These measures are searchable by "SUGGESTED ACTION" throughout the text, and summarized in Section 6 of these comments.
WAI offers comments on this NPRM because of the inclusion of material derived and modified from W3C materials; because of implications in the NPRM that the derived material is consistent with the W3C source material whereas in a number of cases it is not; and because of WAIs interest in contributing to a clearer understanding of the needs of people with disabilities and solutions that are available to industry and the government for ensuring accessibility of the Web.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)  is an international, vendor-neutral, primarily industry consortium, hosted by MIT in the U.S., INRIA (Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique) in France, and Keio University in Japan, which promotes interoperability and universality of the Web. Among its other activities, the W3C hosts the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) , which is also international in focus and which develops complementary solutions on a number of levels for accessibility of the Web. WAI receives funding from a variety of government and industry sources . The opinions stated herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies of the Web Accessibility Initiative or its host organizations.
WAIs work includes ensuring accessibility of the core technologies of the Web such as HTML, CSS, and XML; developing guidelines for accessibility of Web sites and Web-based applications; developing tools to facilitate Web accessibility; conducting education and outreach activities to promote awareness of and provide training on Web accessibility; and coordinating with research and development which can affect future accessibility of the Web.
As part of its activities over the past two and a half years, WAI has developed a set of three guidelines for Web accessibility. The first of these, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG 1.0)  addresses accessibility of Web sites. The second, Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (ATAG 1.0)  addresses developers of software used to make Web sites, explaining how to develop tools which facilitate the production of accessible content and how to ensure that the tools themselves are usable by people with disabilities. The third, the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (UAAG 1.0) , addresses accessibility of browsers, multimedia players, and their interface with assistive technologies.
Each of these documents has an accompanying Checklist grouping the items in each guideline by priority level. These resources are, respectively, the Checklist of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 , the Checklist of Checkpoints for Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 , and the Checklist of Checkpoints for User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 .
Provisions relating to accessibility of the Web in the NPRM differ substantially from the approach recommended in the consensus industry/disability/government EITAAC ("advisory committee") Report  of May 1999.
The NPRM's explanatory text for 1194.23(c) includes this background statement:
The advisory committee recommended that the Boards standards reference the World Wide Web Consortiums (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiatives (WAI) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, User Agent Accessibility Guidelines, and Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines, including requirements from priority levels one and two for each document.
Rather than referencing the WAI guidelines, the proposed standards include provisions which are based generally on priority level one checkpoints of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, as well as other agency documents on web accessibility and additional recommendations of the advisory committee. The Boards rephrasing of language from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 in paragraph (c) of the proposed rule has not been reviewed by the W3C, since proposed rules are not made public until published in the Federal Register.
The advisory committee also included specific recommendations for browsers and authoring tools. Because browsers and authoring tools are software in nature, they must also comply with the requirements of section 1194.23(b).
Thus, despite the fact that the advisory committee recommended two priority levels (Priority 1 and Priority 2) across the three W3C/WAI guidelines, the Access Board's NPRM only partially references one priority level (Priority 1) for only one of the three W3C/WAI guidelines (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0).
Given that the proposed provisions are "are based generally on priority level one checkpoints of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0," as well as unnamed other documents, and statements following the majority of those proposed provisions to the effect that they are "consistent with the recommendations of the advisory committee," we provide here a detailed analysis of each of the NPRMs provisions specifically related to Web accessibility. This analysis addresses similarities and differences between the proposed provisions and the source material, as well as how those differences may affect adequacy of Section 508 standards for ensuring access to the Web for people with disabilities.
Compared to the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 1.1, "Provide a text equivalent for every non-text element (e.g. via "alt", "longdesc", or in element content). This includes: images, graphical representations of text (including symbols), image map regions, animations (e.g. animated GIFs), applets and programmatic objects, ascii art, frames, scripts, images used as list bullets, spacers, graphical buttons, sounds (played with or without user interaction), stand-alone audio files, audio tracks of video, and video),) the NPRMs wording of (c)(1) differs substantially. The NPRMs rewording specifies use of "alt," "longdesc," or text equivalent in element content, rather than listing these as sample solutions. This provision thereby is largely restrictive to HTML-based Web technologies, rather than accommodating evolving Web technologies which might require other types of text equivalents. In so doing, the NPRM is outdated with regard to Web technologies before the rule is finalized; and would become severely outdated by the time of the next refreshment of Section 508 standards, which could conceivably be five years or more in the future.
In addition, the rewording in the NPRM effectively excludes by omission text equivalents for all non-text elements to which WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 1.1. applies, besides those noted in the explanatory text.
However, the explanatory text introduces erroneous information. The explanatory text under Section 1194.23 for paragraph (c)(1) mentions only two examples: "a link or graphic on a web page that indicates an action or a URL cannot be interpreted by assistive technology. This provision would require that an alternative text label be assigned to that link or graphic." This explanatory text gives two erroneous impressions: (1) that hypertext links cannot be interpreted by assistive technologies and require alternative text, which is not the case; and (2) that all the other elements listed do not require alternative text, since they are neither listed in the explanation nor the text of (c)(1) itself. It is WAIs experience that without these examples, Web designers will often assume that many of the items listed here do not require alternative text. Regarding the graphic/link issue, perhaps what was intended in the NPRM was "a graphic used as an image or as a link" since, when graphics serve as links, they require alternative text as does any image.
This provision is not consistent with the recommendations of the advisory committee, as claimed in the NPRM; and more importantly, it leaves substantial accessibility needs unaddressed.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 1:
Compared to the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 2.1, "Ensure that all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup,") the NPRMs rewording does not have the same meaning. In fact (c)(2) substitutes a different and more demanding requirement. It is not necessary for a Web user to be able to identify specific colors red, magenta, rose, etc. -- in order to comprehend the information on a Web site, and in fact it would be unnecessarily burdensome on Web designers to require this (this risks an interpretation, for instance, that it might be necessary to provide alternative text for colors using a predefined set of color-names). What is needed instead by people with disabilities is that information that is highlighted or differentiated by color is also highlighted or differentiated in some other way, for instance by contextual cues or by markup indicating "strong" or "emphasis."
The explanatory text under Section 1194.23 for paragraph (c)(2) does not provide an explanation that matches the text of the proposed rule (c)(2). It states that paragraph (c)(2) requires alternatives for color based prompting. Prompting could be understood to be a subset of navigation, however it cannot be equated with meaning in general, to which paragraph (c)(2) also refers. Nor does the explanatory text match the original wording in WCAG 1.0, Checkpoint 2.1, as the explanatory text in the NPRM focuses solely on the use of color for prompts.
Therefore neither paragraph (c)(2) nor its explanation is consistent with the recommendations of the advisory committee, as stated in the NPRM; and the NPRMs rewording unnecessarily creates a more burdensome requirement for Web designers.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 2: Use wording from WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 2.1, re-arranged to match the Section 508 format, e.g. "Web pages shall be designed so that all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup."
There are no substantive differences between the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 4.1, "Clearly identify changes in the natural language of a documents text and any text equivalents (e.g., captions)," and NPRMs rewording, with the exception of the omission of the clarifying example "captions" for the term "text equivalents."
However, the explanatory text for (c)(3) entirely changes the meaning of this item, compared to the express intent of WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 4.1. The NPRM states that "this requirement can be met by adding a line of text to a web page which changes from English to French by adding text which reads the following paragraph is presented in French since the user would be at a loss as to why the page had become unintelligible."
On the contrary, the purpose of Checkpoint 4.1 is not to require the addition of text which could break the flow of prose, poetry, legal documents, etc., as would result from the example above, but rather to provide machine-readable markup (readable by browsers and assistive technologies) automatically indicating inline changes of language, and would trigger the appropriate phonetic or symbolic lexicon for speech synthesis (audio output) or braille display (tactile output).
This provision is therefore not consistent with the recommendations of the advisory council, as stated in the NPRM. It would introduce a more stringent technique for meeting a requirement, which would directly interfere with the content on Web sites thereby increasing the burden for Web designers while reducing access for people with disabilities.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 3: Use the explanatory text from WCAG 1.0 that accompanies Guideline #4 and that precedes the checkpoints listed under Guideline #4, e.g.: "When content developers mark up natural language changes in a document, speech synthesizers and braille devices can automatically switch to the new language, making the document more accessible to multilingual users. Content developers should identify the predominant natural language of a document's content (through markup or HTTP headers) "
There are no substantive differences between the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 6.1, "Organize documents so they may be read without style sheets. For example, when an HTML document is rendered without associated style sheets, it must still be possible to read the document," and the wording in the NPRM, with the exception of the omission of the clarifying example about an HTML document that is rendered without its style sheets but is still readable.
However the explanatory text for (c)(4) introduces an erroneous concept which clouds the meaning of this provision: "This provision prohibits the use of style sheets that interfere with user defined style sheets." This is not possible. It is the behavior of the user agent (browser, multimedia player, or assistive technology) which determines whether a users style sheet can override an authors style sheet; not any characteristic of style sheets used within or linked from a Web page.
Had the NPRM referenced the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines as advised by the advisory committee, this provision for user override of author style sheets where needed by an individual with a disability would be a requirement.
Given the erroneous information in the explanatory text, coupled with the absence of reference to the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines, this provision is not consistent with the recommendations of the advisory committee, as stated in the NPRM; and the critical provision for user override of style sheets is absent from the NPRM.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 4:
There are no differences in meaning between the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 6.2, "Ensure that equivalents for dynamic content are updated when the dynamic content changes," and the wording in the NPRM.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 5: None.
There are no differences in meaning between the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 1.2, "Provide redundant text links for each active region of a server-side image map," and the wording in the NPRM.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 6: None.
Compared to the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 9.1, "Provide client-side image maps instead of server-side image maps except where the regions cannot be defined with an available geometric shape," the NPRMs rewording is less specific and testable than the wording in WCAG. The WCAG 1.0 wording allows server-side image maps in only one condition where image map regions cannot be defined by an available geometric shape whereas the NPRM rewording leaves the conditions undefined. It would therefore be more difficult for a Web designer to know whether they had fulfilled this requirement. If there are indeed other reasons besides the lack of availability of a given geometric shape for why server-side image maps should be used in certain cases, then this NPRM wording would be appropriate. Given the difference in meaning, however, this provision is not consistent with the recommendations of the advisory committee, as stated in the NPRM.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 7: If there are no known examples beyond the lack of an available geometric shape for why to use server-side image maps, then use wording from WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 9.1, re-arranged to match the Section 508 format, e.g. "Client-side image maps shall be provided instead of server-side image maps except where the regions cannot be defined with an available geometric shape."
There are no substantive differences between the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 5.1, "For data tables, identify row and column headers," and the wording in the NPRM, with the exception of the semantic incongruity that it is not the data tables that provide the identification of row and column headers, but rather the author of the data tables that does so.
Regarding the explanatory text, where it states that "When table codes are used for non tabular material, the assistive technology cannot accurately read the content," it would be more accurate to state that "some" assistive technology cannot accurately read the content. Some of the more recent screen reader versions are now able to unwrap table markup.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 8:
There are no substantive differences between the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 5.2, "For data tables that have two or more logical levels of row or column headers, use markup to associate data cells and header cells."
This item shares the same explanatory text as item (c)(8), and requires the same correction.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 9: Correct the explanatory text as noted at item 8 above, e.g. "When... table codes are used for non tabular material, some assistive technology cannot accurately read the content..."
There are no substantive differences between the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 12.1, "Title each frame to facilitate frame identification and navigation," and the NPRMs rewording in (c)(10).
However, the explanatory text states that "Frames can be an asset to users of screen readers if the labels on the frames are explicit." This wording implies a recommendation for the use of frames, rather than merely addressing how to make frames accessible if they are used. Some screen reader users, as well as people with a variety of physical disabilities that constrain navigation options, would disagree with this encouragement of the use of frames. Given this context, the NPRMs rewording is no longer consistent with the recommendations of the advisory committee as stated in the NPRM.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 10: In the explanatory text, change "Frames can be an asset to users of screen readers if the labels on the frames are explicit" to read "Make the titles on frames explicit."
Compared to the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 6.3, "Ensure that pages are usable when scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects are turned off or not supported. If this is not possible, provide equivalent information on an alternative accessible page,") the NPRMs rewording does not have the same meaning.
The NPRMs rewording requires either one of two solutions either that a Web page be usable regardless of whether the scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects on the page are turned off or are unsupported by a browser, assistive technology or other software or device; or conversely, that there be equivalent information available on another page that is accessible. Examining the original wording in WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 6.3, however, we find a clear preference for ensuring that the primary Web page is accessible. Only if this is not possible does WCAG 1.0 advise providing equivalent information on an alternative page. WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 6.3 is consistent with the use of an alternative page only as a last resort, as described in WCAG 1.0 [priority one] Checkpoint 11.4: "If, after best efforts, you cannot create an accessible page, provide a link to an alternative page that uses W3C technologies, is accessible, has equivalent information (or functionality), and is updated as often as the inaccessible (original) page." This is an important principle of accessible Web design, addressing widespread problems maintaining fidelity of content on alternative pages, the possible exception being pages that are dynamically generated according to the preferences of users, as well as the general failure of such pages to provide cross-disability accessibility.
The explanatory text for this item, "If the page cannot be created with text attributes for navigation and content that do not require a plug-in, then an alternate text page may be the only solution," is more consistent with WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 6.3, than is the text of (c)(11) itself, however it still does not include the caveats of Checkpoint 11.4. The subsequent advice in the explanatory text, "The Board recommends that access features be incorporated into all web pages without resorting to alternative text pages," neither explains why there is the concern about using alternate text-only pages, nor does it outline the conditions for maintaining fidelity of content on such pages. It could be helpful to do so. It is the experience of WAI that there is a common public misconception that text-only alternative pages are an adequate and appropriate means of providing accessibility, whereas they present multiple problems, including being oriented to a single-disability solution and being poorly maintained by page authors.
Given the differences in meaning between the NPRMs (c)(11) and WCAG 6.3, as well as the differences between the explanatory text for the NPRMs (c)(11) and WCAG 11.4, the provisions of (c)(11) are not consistent with the recommendations of the advisory committee, as stated in the NPRM. Furthermore the provisions do not adequately address the needs of people with disabilities for access to Web pages where scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects are turned off or unsupported, nor do they adequately caution against text-only pages.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 11: Use the wording in WCAG 1.0, Checkpoint 6.3, re-arranged to match the Section 508 format, e.g. "Pages shall be usable when scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects are turned off or not supported. If this is not possible, equivalent information shall be provided on an alternative accessible page."
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 12: Add WCAG 1.0, Checkpoint 11.4, rearranged to match the Section 508 format, e.g. "For pages that after best efforts cannot be made accessible, a link shall be provided to an alternative page that uses W3C technologies, is accessible, has equivalent information (or functionality), and is updated as often as the inaccessible (original) page.
There are no substantive differences between the original wording in WCAG 1.0 (Checkpoint 1.3, "For any time-based multi-media presentation (e.g., a movie or animation), synchronize equivalent alternatives (e.g., captions or auditory descriptions of the visual track) with the presentation," and the wording in the NPRM, with the exception of the omission of the clarifying examples of multimedia and equivalent alternatives. These are however present in the explanatory text.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 13: None.
This provision does not correspond to any provision of the WCAG 1.0. We are not clear from the wording of (c)(13) what is intended by this provision, with the exception of the phrase "the option to skip repetitive navigation links."
The explanatory text as well as the text of item (c)(13) refers to "tracking" of page content, which is unclear in this context. It also refers to links at the "top, bottom, or side of every new page." It is unclear what is meant by links at the "side" of pages. The examples in the explanatory text are exclusively related to visual impairment; if this item is of relevance to those navigating by tabbing through links then it would also presumably be relevant to those with some physical disabilities as well, which would bear mentioning. It is unclear whether this provision as currently phrased is consistent with recommendations of the advisory committee.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 14: If the primary intent of this item is to provide a means to skip the navigation bar at the top of a document, or in general to skip over related groups of links within a document, then the Access Board could use the wording in WCAG 1.0, [priority three] Checkpoint 13.6, "Group related links, identify the group (for user agents), and, until user agents do so, provide a way to bypass the group" and rearrange this to match the Section 508 format, e.g. "For groups of related links, the group shall be identified (for user agents), and, until user agents do so, a way shall be provided to bypass the group."
WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 7.1, a priority one item, is not reflected in any of the proposed provisions in the NPRMs 1194.23(c) applying to the Web. WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 7.1 reads: "Until user agents allow users to control flickering, avoid causing the screen to flicker." This checkpoint was given priority one status by the consensus working group which developed WCAG 1.0 because without this provision some individuals with photosensitive seizure disorders will find it impossible to use certain Web pages.
While there is a related provision at 1194.21(c) of the NPRM "When flashing or blinking text, objects, or other elements are displayed, the flash rate shall not exceed two Hertz," it is likely that many Web page designers will not notice that provision or consider it relevant to Web page design.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 15: Include WCAG 1.0, Checkpoint 7.1, rearranged to match the Section 508 format, e.g. "Until user agents allow users to control flickering, pages shall be designed so as to avoid causing the screen to flicker."
WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 14.1, a priority one item, is not reflected in any of the proposed provisions in the NPRM. Checkpoint 14.1 reads: "Use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for a sites content." This checkpoint was given priority one status by the consensus working group which developed WCAG 1.0 because without this provision some individuals will find it impossible to use certain Web pages.
This provision is occasionally misunderstood to require only the use of simple language on Web sites. However this is not what is advised. Rather the provision advises considering the level of language that is necessary and appropriate for a sites content; in other words, not making language on Web sites more complex than needed for that site. Techniques for this provision are available in the Techniques for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0  -- these techniques clarify the reasonable and practical approach advised, for instance "Avoid slang, jargon, and specialized meanings of familiar words, unless defined within your document" and "Favor words that are commonly used. For example, use 'begin' rather than 'commence' or use 'try' rather than 'endeavor.'" This provision applies within the context of what is appropriate language for a Web site (we note that these comments on the NPRM are an example of an instance where simple language is not adequate and therefore not appropriate), and is similar to existing requirements for language use in federal government documents.
Another common misunderstanding is that, because it may be less apparent how one would evaluate fulfillment of such a provision, it is appropriate to exclude it from a requirement set. From the explanatory text for section 1194.27:
The advisory committee also recommended provisions that address limited cognitive and memory abilities and limited memory and learning disabilities. Although it is important to be cognizant of issues for all people with disabilities, we believe that it is difficult for a manufacturer or procurement official to know if the criteria the committee recommended were met. Also, many of the features required to accommodate other disabilities, can be very useful to people with learning and language related disabilities. For instance, such features as voice output and highlighting a focus tracking helps those with reading difficulties.
To summarize, these provisions were recommended; the Access Board finds they will be difficult to evaluate; and some other provisions in the NPRM may provide some support for accessibility for cognitive disabilities.
We note that evaluation of fulfillment of even the most objective-appearing provisions in the NPRM may have a subjective element. For instance, while one can make an objective determination whether alternative text is available for an image, evaluating whether that alternative text is appropriate to the image is a subjective matter; e.g. a graphic of an airplane can be labeled as a cow, and this would go undetected by an automatic Web site accessibility-checker. Similarly, proper evaluation of whether a document maintains its readability without its associated style sheet may require comparison of correspondence of non-linear visual presentation of information (if a style sheet has been used to control layout and positioning of text and images) with a linearized rendition of the page without its style sheets. As with the previous example, this determination includes a subjective element.
While other provisions in the NPRM may indeed be beneficial to individuals with cognitive disabilities, a parallel rationale is not applied regarding the needs of other disability groups (e.g., that because some supporting provisions are available to meet their needs, other critical provisions should be waived).
WCAG Checkpoint 14.1 is necessary for access to Web content by people with a variety of disabilities. Excluding this provision impedes or excludes these individuals from using Web sites covered by Section 508.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 16: Include WCAG 1.0, Checkpoint 14.1, rearranged to match the Section 508 format, e.g. "Pages shall be designed so as to use the clearest and simplest language appropriate for the sites content."
WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 1.3, a priority one item, is not reflected in any of the proposed provisions in the NPRM. Checkpoint 1.3 reads: "Until user agents can automatically read aloud the text equivalent of a visual track, provide an auditory description of the important information of the visual track of a multimedia presentation." This checkpoint was given priority one status by the consensus working group which developed WCAG 1.0, because without this provision some individuals will find it impossible to use certain Web pages.
Without an equivalent to WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 1.3, there is no clear provision in the NPRM for an audio description for Web-based video information. There are several provisions which bear some relevance.
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 17: Include WCAG 1.0 Checkpoint 1.3, rearranged to match the Section 508 format, in Section 1194.23 (c), e.g. "Until user agents can automatically read aloud the text equivalent of a visual track, an auditory description of the important information of the visual track of a multimedia presentation shall be provided."
We note the omission of all priority-two WCAG 1.0 Checkpoints. This difference from the recommendations of the advisory committee is not explained in the NPRM so it is not possible to directly respond to the Access Boards rationale for this omission.
For context, priority one Checkpoints are Checkpoints that are "a basic requirement for some groups to be able to use Web documents," and without which one or more groups "will find it impossible to access information" in Web documents. Priority two Checkpoints are those Checkpoints that, in satisfying, "will remove significant barriers to accessing Web documents," and without which "one or more groups will find it difficult to access information in the document." Priority three Checkpoints, not discussed here, are provisions that "will improve access to Web documents."
Priority two Checkpoints address a variety of issues. We provide here some examples of the types of issues which remain unaddressed without priority two Checkpoints (this is not a complete listing of priority two checkpoints topics, and the provisions are merely paraphrased as to outcome here, not stated formally):
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 18: Reconsider whether some provisions from WCAG 1.0 priority two Checkpoints, may be necessary to ensure the level of accessibility to the Web intended by Section 508.
Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (ATAG 1.0) priority levels one and two Checkpoints are not addressed in the NPRM. ATAG 1.0 addresses the accessibility of authoring tools for users with disabilities and the capability of authoring tools to support production of WCAG-conformant (accessible) Web content. In the event that the Access Board considers that the provisions of Section 1194.23(b) encompass essential user interface accessibility provisions for authoring tools, we provide the following analysis.
Some aspects of accessibility of authoring tools are addressed by provisions in the NPRMs Section 1194.23(b), "Non-embedded software applications and operating systems." However, other provisions in ATAG 1.0 are unique to the environment of authoring tools and are therefore not covered in Section 1194.23(b).
Specific aspects of authoring tool accessibility at a priority one level that are not addressed by the NPRM include:
Specific aspects of authoring tool accessibility at a priority two level that are not addressed by the NPRM include:
Without these provisions for accessibility of authoring tools, individuals with disabilities may not have comparable use of authoring tools to produce Web content as would individuals without disabilities.
A separate issue arising from the omission of ATAG 1.0 relates to the capability of ATAG-conformant authoring tools to fulfill the provisions in Section 1194.23(c) of the NPRM. We list ATAG 1.0 items at a priority one level that can greatly facilitate production of accessible content. The absence of these provisions in many of todays authoring tools necessitates manual markup of accessibility information in many Web pages, or re-entering of accessibility-related markup that has been stripped out by non-ATAG-conformant tools. ATAG-conformant tools would, in contrast, automatically generate valid markup, and help prompt for accessibility information where needed. Reduced effort for production of accessible Web sites means reduced implementation cost. Examples of ATAG 1.0 priority one Checkpoints which facilitate production of accessible content include:
Examples of ATAG 1.0 Checkpoints whose priority is determined relative to WCAG 1.0 (in other words, these ATAG 1.0 Checkpoints are priority one when the provision in WCAG 1.0 that they point to has a priority one status) and which facilitate production of accessible content include:
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 19:
User Agent Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (UAAG 1.0), which address the accessibility of browsers and multimedia players and their interface with assistive technologies, are not directly addressed in the NPRM. UAAG 1.0. In the event that the Access Board considers that the provisions of Section 1194.23(b) encompass essential accessibility provisions for user agents, we provide the following analysis.
Some aspects of user agent accessibility are addressed by provisions in the NPRMs Section 1194.23(b) "Non-embedded software applications and operating systems." However, other items in UAAG 1.0 are unique to browsers, multimedia players, and their interface with assistive technologies, and are therefore not covered in Section 1194.23(b); neither are they covered in Section 1194.23(c), which is titled "Web-based information or applications."
A listing of areas of rough correspondence between the NPRMs Section 1194.23(b) and the UAAGs priority one Checkpoints is provided in Appendix B. To summarize, provisions 1194.23 b-1, b-3, b-4, b-5, b-7, b-8, b-11, and also c-13 partially encompass twelve UAAG 1.0 priority one Checkpoints. In no cases is the correspondence complete; for instance, 1194.23 (b) (8) provides for availability of contrasting colors, but provides no assurance that the user can configure those colors as needed, as do the corresponding UAAG Checkpoints. Similarly, 1194.23(b)(1) provides for "access-by-keystroke" to "local navigation," while UAAG Checkpoint 1.3 establishes a requirement that "interaction with all active elements" be "device-independent," which is considerably broader. "Local navigation," for instance, excludes access to the World Wide Web. Additional detail on these areas of rough correspondence is available in the Appendix.
A listing of provisions of the UAAG 1.0 priority one Checkpoints which have no or only limited correspondence in the NPRMs Section 1194.23 is available in Appendix C. These include items such as configuring audio volume; configuring speech playback rate and volume; selecting from or ignoring available author or user style sheets; allowing the user to turn on or off background images or background audio; allowing the user to navigate viewports including frames. Additional detail on areas of no correspondence is available in the Appendix.
Given these areas of partial or no correspondence, Section 1194.23 appears inadequate with regard to accessibility provisions that apply to Web user agents. We are concerned also with the difficulty of accurately mapping UAAG 1.0 Checkpoints against 1194.23(b). In establishing a non-harmonized set of requirements, it creates a potential problem for developers of user agents, who would not have a single clear set of accessibility requirements against which to evaluate feature improvements. It also poses a dilemma for procurement officials, who would be hard-pressed to determine whether a particular product conforms or not if even the experts in the field cannot do so.
We also note several areas of interdependence between WCAG 1.0 and UAAG 1.0 provisions. These are areas where, if user agents implement certain features supporting accessibility, less effort will be required of Web designers. The priority one WCAG 1.0 Checkpoints, which Web designers would not need to address if user agents increase their support for accessibility, are:
The priority two WCAG 1.0 Checkpoints (should any of these be incorporated following reconsideration) which Web designers would not need to address, if user agents increase their support for accessibility, are:
SUGGESTED ACTION FOR ITEM 20:
To summarize the item-by-item analysis of the NPRMs provisions regarding Web-based information and applications, there are several areas of concern:
In addition to these differences, ranging from incremental to substantial in impact on accessibility, there is a broader concern. Instead of harmonizing with voluntary consensus industry standards where possible, as is the policy of the U.S. federal government, the Access Board has "fragmented the standard" with regard to Web accessibility in a way that may be detrimental to industry, difficult for procurement officers to implement, and may result in reduced access for people with disabilities than what is otherwise achievable.
Looking at this fragmentation of the standard from a variety of perspectives:
The W3C Document Use Notice , in granting permission to use, copy, and distribute the contents of W3C documents conditional upon linking to the URL of the original W3C document, including the copyright statement, and including the document status section, also states the following:
No right to create modifications or derivatives of W3C documents is granted pursuant to this license. However, if additional requirements (documented in the Copyright FAQ) are satisfied, the right to create modifications or derivatives is sometimes granted by the W3C to individuals complying with those requirements.
With regard to modifications, W3Cs Intellectual Property Notice  includes the following:
No material may be modified, edited or taken out of context such that its use creates a false or misleading statement or impression as to the positions, statements or actions of W3C.
As noted in the analysis of differences and summary of impact above, the provisions in this NPRM do indeed represent a modification of W3C material that creates misleading impressions as to the statements of W3C.
We note the interim disclaimer in the NPRM:
The Boards rephrasing of language from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 in paragraph (c) of the proposed rule has not been reviewed by the W3C, since proposed rules are not made public until published in the Federal Register.
Given that the W3C does encourage referencing and/or adoption of its materials where appropriate, we again emphasize that "the right to create modifications or derivatives is sometimes granted by the W3C..." We recommend harmonization of the Web-related provisions of Sec.1194.23 with W3C/WAI guidelines to the extent possible via the suggested actions in the text above, and where not possible, clear and accurate disclaimers regarding those areas that are not consistent with W3C/WAI guidelines. Please consider W3C staff available for any clarifications needed on use of these or any other W3C materials including the W3C document use policy.
We also note that the WAI's process of developing guidelines for Web accessibility is open to all participants, and encourage the Access Board to communicate any areas where they feel there may be problems in the guidelines so that these may be addressed through a consensus process in advanced versions of the guidelines, thereby further contributing to shared solutions and resources available for Web accessibility.
Circular A-119 from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB)  "directs agencies to use voluntary consensus standards in lieu of government-unique standards except where inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical ." and the introduction notes that "The policies in this Circular are intended to reduce to a minimum the reliance by agencies on government-unique standards." "Impractical" is defined as including "circumstances in which such use would fail to serve the agency's program needs; would be infeasible; would be inadequate, ineffectual, inefficient, or inconsistent with agency mission; or would impose more burdens, or would be less useful, than the use of another standard." The goals of Circular A-119 read as follows:
"The use of such standards, whenever practicable and appropriate, is intended to achieve the following goals:
- a. Eliminate the cost to the Government of developing its own standards and decrease the cost of goods procured and the burden of complying with agency regulation.
- b. Provide incentives and opportunities to establish standards that serve national needs.
- c. Encourage long-term growth for U.S. enterprises and promote efficiency and economic competition through harmonization of standards.
- d. Further the policy of reliance upon the private sector to supply Government needs for goods and services."
With regard to use of domestic or international standards, A-119 further notes that "in the interests of promoting trade and implementing the provisions of international treaty agreements, your agency should consider international standards in procurement and regulatory applications." The means of referencing voluntary consensus standards can include "incorporation of a standard in whole, in part, or by reference for procurement purposes, and the inclusion of a standard in whole, in part, or by reference in regulation(s)." WAI suggests that the government-unique standard proposed in the NPRM for Web accessibility may increase, rather than decrease, the burden on industry of complying with the standard, not only within the domestic market but internationally. This would appear to be contrary to the intent of A-119.
SUGGESTED ACTION #21: Harmonize Sec.1194 provisions regarding Web accessibility with W3C/WAI guidelines to the extent possible, taking into account suggested actions 1- 20 from these comments.
SUGGESTED ACTION #22: Clearly and accurately indicate which Sec.1194 provisions are different from W3C/WAI guidelines, taking into account discussion and suggested actions under items 1- 20 from these comments.
SUGGESTED ACTION #23: Provide a statement about use of modified W3C/WAI material which is consistent with W3C Document Use Policy and which discourages a series of derivative versions by other parties.
This section provides a listing of areas of rough correspondence between the NPRMs Section 1194.23(b) and the UAAGs priority one Checkpoints. This does not represent a complete or definitive analysis of correspondences. General discussion is available under Item #20 -- Correspondence of NPRM 1194.23 to the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines.
(b)(1) Logical navigation among user interface elements shall be provided by use of keystrokes.
(b)(3) A well-defined on-screen indication of the current focus shall be provided that moves among interactive interface elements as the input focus changes. The focus shall be programatically exposed so that assistive technology can track focus and focus changes.
(b)(4) Sufficient information about a user interface element including the identity, operation and state of the element shall be available to assistive technology.
(b)(5) Where an image represents an interface element or the state of an interface element, there must be a way for assistive technology to associate meaningful text with the image.
(b)(7) Text shall be provided through an application programming interface supporting interaction with assistive technology or use system text writing tools. The minimum information that shall be available to assistive technology is text content, text input carat location, and text attributes.
(b)(8) A minimum of 8 foreground and 8 background color selections capable of producing a variety of contrast levels shall be provided.
(b)(11) If animated or moving text is provided it shall also be displayable in at least one static
presentation mode at the option of the user.
(c)(13) An appropriate method shall be used to facilitate the easy tracking of page content that provides users of assistive technology the option to skip repetitive navigation links.
This section provides a listing of areas with limited or no correspondence between the NPRMs Section 1194.23(b) and the UAAGs priority one Checkpoints. This does not represent a complete or definitive analysis of correspondences. General discussion is available under Item #20 -- Correspondence of NPRM 1194.23 to the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines.
Control of style:
For Keyboard and other Input Devices: