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Whats All This Talk About Web Accessibility, Part 1: Inside Adaptive Technology

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In the first of a three-part series, Lisa Jahred takes you inside adaptive technology, and provides you with a glimpse of what it's like to "listen" to the Web. You also learn about Section 508 and how the private sector is responding to make changes in Web accessibility.
Lisa Jahred, author of FrameMaker 6: Beyond the Basics, writes a regular column for InformIT.
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Web accessibility has different meanings for different people. For one person, it might mean the user-friendliness of a Web site, for another it might mean ease of understanding a Web site. Yet other meanings may focus on ease of access via connection speeds or the clarity of Web site navigation.

For a visually impaired or blind person, Web accessibility is more clearly defined as the difference between accessing or not accessing Web content, regardless of any of the meanings mentioned above. In other words, your Web site may be truly informative, but if it's not designed for accessibility, a visually impaired or blind person will never have the opportunity to find out.

Depending on which statistics you listen to, 6% of the population in the United States is visually impaired or blind. Although this may seem like a small number, it amounts to an estimated 15 million people.


For more information on visual impairment statistics, visit

Section 508 Supports Accessibility

Web accessibility has had lots of attention in the last couple of years, thanks to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 is a law that was put into effect for a good reason—to ensure access to electronic and technology information by people with a wide range of disabilities. Section 508 specifically concerns Federal agencies.

Section 508, published on December 21, 2000, is made up of a set of clearly defined standards and covers a wide range of technology, including the following:

  • Software applications and operating systems
  • Web-based information or applications
  • Telecommunications products
  • Video and multimedia products
  • Self-contained products such as calculator and fax machines
  • Desktop and portable computers

Section 508 also provides accessibility criteria for a wide range of people with disabilities, including the following:

  • Visual impairments
  • Hearing impairments
  • Mobility impairments
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Seizure disorders
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