Braille Monitor                                                    August/September 2008

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NFB Nonvisual Accessibility Web Certification

by Anne Taylor

Anne TaylorFrom the Editor: Anne Taylor is director of access technology at the NFB Jernigan Institute. On Thursday morning, July 3, she made a presentation about nonvisual accessibility Web certification. It is important that everyone who wishes to do so have access to Websites. Therefore, Anne has agreed to summarize her report to convention delegates so that we can begin immediately to put pressure on companies and organizations to construct Websites that blind people can use nonvisually. This is what she writes:

At our national convention in Dallas this year, one of the access technology spotlights was on the crucial issue of Web accessibility. Over the last year the AT team has done considerable work making more Websites accessible to blind users through NFB nonvisual accessibility Web certification (NFB NVA certification). We relaunched the certification with Deque Systems, Inc., early this year at the California State University at Northridge’s twenty-third Annual International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities, and we have since been working with a number of organizations to make their Web presence accessible to the blind. This article offers a summary of the points made at convention as well as a brief overview of the NFB NVA certification.

The NFB nonvisual web accessibility certification program is the only nonvisual access certification for Website and software. This year the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, in partnership with Deque Systems, Inc., has redesigned this initiative to do two things better than before. Our new design is a better tool to enable us to assist businesses that want to deploy accessible Websites for the blind and a better tool to make us effective spokesmen and women for this initiative. When a company submits a request for certification, one benefit of this new design is the ability to generate a report automatically with details on accessibility violations. Once that report is done, the NFB NVA team does hands-on usability testing on the site, and results from this testing are included in the report that we send to the company. Companies can use this report as a tool to assess the accessibility status of their Webpages to determine whether the Website is ready to be certified. We can give them clear steps to take if they are not ready.

Certified Websites will meet criteria at one of the following levels and are expected to progress to platinum over time.

Silver: Top 100 URLs are completely accessible--all content is compliant with WCAG priorities one and two or NFB NVA standards.

Gold: Top 100 URLs are completely accessible–all content controlled by the organization is compliant.
Twenty most frequently accessed documents (MS Office/PDF) and resources (Flash/Video/Audio) are compliant.

Platinum:  All Web content, documents (PDF), and resources are completely compliant.

The organization commits to independent audits and continuous monitoring.

The site owner maintains appropriate control over aggregated content (all content presented on its Website, even if contributed and controlled by someone outside the organization).

Sites that have achieved Platinum status will be promoted and showcased by NFB in various forums and functions throughout the year. All certified Websites will be continuously monitored by Deque’s WorldSpace software to ensure that the optimum accessibility standard is maintained throughout the life of the certification.

It is hard to overstate the importance of our efforts in Web accessibility. During the past two decades the percentage of Internet use among the American population has risen dramatically. According to data provided by the United States Internet Usage, Broadband, and Telecommunications Report, in 2000 124 million Americans, or 44 percent of the total population, used the Internet regularly. In March 2008 there were 218,302,574 Internet users or 71.9% of the population, according to <Nielsen//NetRatings>. Even though the percentage of Internet use in this country almost doubled in the past eight years, the number of nonvisually accessible Websites is very low. Far too often the NFB Access Technology team receives emails and telephone calls from blind individuals expressing frustration when encountering inaccessible Websites while on the job, at school, or at home. The certification process provides inaccessible Websites with a clear path to improvement and a good alternative to excluding consumers.

Here are some common access problems for us in 2008. Many of us do not have access to online public transportation schedules because government-funded transit authority Websites are not accessible. Major airlines are making lower fares available on the Web but fail to make their Websites accessible to the blind. Blind people who make reservations by telephone are obliged to pay an extra service charge. Some blind job seekers are discouraged from pursuing the profession of their choice because the employer refuses to make the company Website accessible. Many colleges and universities still use inaccessible Websites as the information exchange center for staff and students, while simultaneously moving to a paperless environment. Therefore blind students in colleges and universities around the country often do not have access to information they need to excel in their studies, take examinations, receive and submit assignments, or manage their student accounts.

While the blind are working hard to earn a living and have money to spend, it is still a challenge for us to manage our bank accounts on the Web, pay bills online, or shop using the Internet. Sighted people benefit from the vast array of products and services available on the Internet, but the blind are being left behind. Although Web accessibility guidelines have been publicly available for a number of years now, many government agencies, private companies, and educational institutions are not willing to use them during the Website-design process. We do not know for certain whether the reluctance to deploy accessible Websites is intentional or not, but we believe that access delayed is equivalent to access denied. It has become clear that many organizations with the resources to make the changes are in fact less willing than smaller companies to take on the task of making their sites equal-access. In order to ensure that blind people have equal ease of Web access with sighted Americans, we must be proactive. As demonstrated in other NFB successes, the power of collective action can define good business practice and make accessibility a standard feature. Together we must be willing to take immediate steps to solve this problem.

Here’s how you can get involved in making some changes for the better: the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute encourages blind consumers to identify companies of interest and ask them to make their Websites accessible, especially the companies with whom you have a good relationship. We have a procedure to simplify the process for you. Go to the Web Accessibility Program page in the Technology section of <www.nfb.org> and locate the “Inaccessible Web Site Notification Form” link in order to submit the company's URL.

Two things will occur after you submit the URL. The access technology team will send you a form letter which you can use when writing or emailing the company. Please personalize your letter by adding the details of your experience before sending it. At the same time the access technology team will generate an accessibility report about the company’s Website and send the report and assessment letter to the company. After a company becomes a client by enrolling in the NFB nonvisual Web accessibility program, the team will continue to provide necessary assistance until the Website is certified. If the client does not have a Webmaster trained in accessibility techniques, we can help identify a Web accessibility consultant.

The list of certified Websites is made available publicly on NFB.org. We encourage blind people to visit and patronize sites with certification and also to continue to report any problems. This is a part of the continuous monitoring necessary when site designs are as fluid as they are today. Your help is needed.

Here is the list of the sites certified as accessible in 2008:
Independent Living Aids, Inc., <www.independentliving.com>
General Electric Company, <www.ge.com/>
En-Vision America, Inc., <www.envisionamerica.com/>

We are making progress. GE was the first organization to be certified under the new NFB NVA program guidelines, and they received their gold level certification from President Maurer at the convention. Jen Walsh, GE's global director for digital media, said, "For many people, the Website is the first touch point for the company. Given our breadth and depth, it's important to be accessible. We have a broad impact on a lot of people's lives." At the convention GE was represented by Michael Eisenreich, technology leader for GE.com, and Kathleen Kinsella, GE.com project manager, whose presentations reaffirmed their accessibility responsibility. Michael confirmed that "Website accessibility is an important and ongoing commitment that our team is making.”

Luke Kowalski from Oracle also expressed Oracle’s support for accessibility. The company is now firmly convinced of the importance of ensuring access. They sponsored this summer’s Junior Science Academy. In addition, Craig Woods presented on behalf of Amazon, assuring the membership that, in spite of some hitches, Web accessibility remains one of the big rocks in Amazon’s jar of priorities. If market leaders like these companies are willing to support and work towards equal access, there is little reason why others shouldn’t follow suit.

For further information on NFB NVA certification, visit <http://www.nfb.org/nfb/certification_intro.asp> or contact Clara Van Gerven at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2410, or <cvangerven@nfb.org>. You can also contact Anne Taylor at ext. 2413 or at <ataylor@nfb.org> and Tony Olivero at ext. 2234 or <tolivero@nfb.org>. For other access technology inquiries, call the technology answer line at (410) 659-9314, option 5.

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