With the proposed rules for the much-awaited Section 508 refresh hot off the electronic presses, many of us who live with and support others who live with disabilities, are pleased to learn that the most important indicator of accessibility, the need to consult the input of the disabled user, is being included.
The proposed rules are a formidable document that I am carefully reading, and preparing to submit comments for, so I will share that I have not yet had the chance to read it in its entirety. However, it became apparent within minutes of reviewing the document’s introduction, that the struggle regarding who we are seeking to make ICT accessible for, is begin addressed right out of the gate: software programs which measure accessibility or real people living with disabilities.
The document frames the conflict as the “Relationship Between Functional Performance Criteria and Technical Provisions.” In simpler terms, “functional” means that something actually works when it’s used by a human being. “Technical provision” means that the website or software meets technical criteria, or essentially, “if you insert this formula into the code, then a person with any type of disability should be able to use it.” The below excerpt from the Section 508 Proposed Rules document demonstrates this:
“…the Board proposed that the technical requirements took precedence over the functional performance criteria in the sense that agencies should look first to applicable technical provisions, and only turn to the functional performance criteria when such requirements did not fully address the technology at issue. Commenters objected to this approach, citing the concern that ICT procurements satisfying only the technical requirements would not necessarily ensure sufficient access to individuals with disabilities.
We responded to this concern by proposing in the 2011 ANPRM that ICT be required to conform to the functional performance criteria in every case, even when technical provisions were met.”
Those of us who work with end-users who live with disabilities, including knowledgeable web and software engineers, understand that, in many cases, simply coding or programming a website or software product to meet a “technical provision” doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for a disabled end-user. The types of disabilities people live with are varied, complex and layered. It’s extremely rare, for instance, for a person to have only one type of disability. It’s also extremely common for people with the same type of disability, to access ICT in very different ways. That is why it is so difficult to use software alone to verify accessibility for users as complicated as those who live with disabilities.
A growing number of organizations, both private and public, are coming to understand that leaving “functional” usability out of accessibility requirements, such as Section 508, means that you are leaving real people out of the equation. Upholding “technical provisions” alone (an approach that was used to measure accessibility in the past) may make it easier for a website to “pass” the accessibility compliance software program tests, but often means little regarding how accessible a website is to a person trying to use it when they live with a disability. A growing number of accessibility testing software firms now openly claim that their products are only about 25% accurate when compared to testing done by end-users who live with disabilities.
As US Department of Labor Policy Advisor Team Lead, Mike Reardon states, “A service can be 508 compliant, but barely usable. Usability is a much more important standard for us than accessibility.”
WeCo measures accessibility from the user’s point of view with a team of Certified Test Consultants who live with the a variety of disabilities, which are recognized by the US Department of Human Services, including sight, motor skill, cognitive and hearing related. Our test platform is based upon a model long used by software usability testing for non-disabled users, modified to take into account how people living with disabilities interact with ICT.
We are pleased, and excited, to think about a future where all organizations, private and public, understand the necessity to include the input of the people living with disabilities in verifying legal accessibility for websites, software, applications and documents.