When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was introduced in 1990, compliance for the hearty band of e-publishing pioneers at that time meant converting desktop publishing files and HTML files into plain ASCII, to render their content machine-readable, thus offering disabled readers the “full and equal enjoyment” of their content, as well as the “effective communication” mandated as a civil right to all Americans under ADA.
Until now, ADA compliance for publishers has largely been seen as a subjective and self-regulating activity, with production managers checking off boxes and being done with it. All that may change this July, when ADA turns 25 and Web sites and Web-based publications are expected to be deemed “places of public accommodation.”
Today, thanks to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) out of MIT, we have ISO standards for accessibility. These Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG2) tell us that accessible text must be:
- Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
- Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia.
- Create content that can be presented in different ways,
including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning.
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content.
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
- Give users enough time to read and use content.
- Do not use content that causes seizures.
- Help users navigate and find content.
- Make text readable and understandable.
- Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
- Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools.
We see it happening now. Inaccessible Web sites and publications may be subject to lawsuits, loss of funding, or other types of marginalization. We anticipate significant activity in this area in the months and years ahead, as e-publishers rapidly evolve away from the display-oriented publishing practices of yesterday, towards a standards-based universe of inter-operable content.