I recently attended the Interagency Accessibility Forum, hosted by the General Services Administration (GSA) in Washington DC. It was great to see representatives from many government agencies come together to discuss accessibility issues and share practices to address 508 compliance.
Judy Brewer, Director of the Web Accessibility Initiative at the w3c was the first Keynote speaker, and presented on “The Path to an Accessible Digital Future.” She envisioned a change in the software development life cycle where accessibility bugs are treated as equally important as security bugs. This highlights the value that the industry places on accessibility. While it certainly continues to be gaining visibility and importance, we are far from citing accessibility flaws as critical show stoppers, and having it remediated with full expediency, akin to security bugs.
Brewer also reminded the audience of two critical points. The first was that developers should go beyond the guidelines of Section 508 / WCAG 2.0 where possible. In many instances, meeting the success criterion of these documents is the bare minimum for compliance. There will be ways that you can expand the accessibility of your website/application beyond basic compliance, and these should be explored and implemented. The second reminder was that the lack of regulation of compliance does not mean a lack of requirement. Indeed, building an accessible web is the responsibility of all web developers and digital content authors. Given the scale of the web, to a large extent, we must self-regulate and take responsibility for creating and publishing accessible content.
The final Keynote speaker was Eve Hill, a disability rights attorney, who spoke on the topic titled “Empowerment through Accessibility.” She shared many anecdotes of the challenges which face individuals with disabilities and how the web really is part of the solution to creating an accessible, integrated society. One of the central themes of her presentation was that accessibility should not necessarily be a hard target for web developers to achieve. She instead encouraged investing early enough in the development process to give it the importance it should have and to use the numerous resources available to meet these goals. It was excellent advice from someone who has legal experience enforcing the rights of individuals who use the web.