Below are comments that SSB has provided to the US Access Board in response to the December 2011 ANPRM on ICT accessibility.
SSB BART Group Inc. (SSB) would like to thank the US Access Board for the opportunity to comment on the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology (E&IT) Accessibility Standards advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) from December 2011. SSB applauds the efforts of the Board to modernize the standards making them less platform and more user-centric. SSB has confidence in the Board that the constructive comments from the public, government, and business can quickly be rendered and the proposed rulemaking published.
This document provides responses to the specific questions asked by the Access Board and provides additional comments on the ANRPM that are relevant to its implementation.
The Access Board should consider how these standards will be tested and evaluated and propose a checklist that will encapsulate all of the requirements by applicability. For instance, many requirements are included by reference under each chapter. If an agency or developer were to evaluate a product against these standards a checklist would need to be produced as material evidence of the due diligence performed to evaluate the products and its accessibility features. There are several ways this could be done. For example, an organization could provide a checklist for the chapter and then an associated WCAG 2 checklist or conformance statement. In order to provide consistency in testing and evaluating products for compliance the Access Board should propose some standard method for a checklist with consistent numbering or identification. Furthermore, reference of the WCAG 2 success criteria and conformance requirements raises the question of whether a WCAG 2 conformance statement could be acceptable ore required documentation of these requirements. Similarly, it is unclear if the WCAG 2 conformance requirement that conformance can only be argued on pages as whole would also be required for Section 508 compliance even when full conformance with WCAG 2 is not being claimed for a particular chapter such as Chapter 5.
SSB understands that there is great value in providing non-normative guidelines on the standards. For example, the “Understanding WCAG 2.0” and “Techniques for WCAG 2.0” documents are very valuable to developers implementing WCAG 2 conformance. The Access Board should provide equivalent types of non-normative documents for aspects of Section 508 and Section 255 that are not addressed by WCAG 2 and recommend the WCAG 2 documents aforementioned as non-normative resources for developers in understanding known sufficient techniques and failures for complying with the standards.
Section 508 directs Federal agencies to procure the most compliant product that meets the needs of the organization and provides the best value to the government. This statement exposes the fact that many products are not fully compliant. Not all requirements affect the accessibility of a product in the same manner to the user. Currently, there is no method to formally compare levels of accessibility of one product to another other than making qualitative judgments based on the responses of internal testing or vendor submitted product accessibility statements. The Access Board should consider methods to assist agencies in procuring the most accessible product and making intelligent comparisons between the compliance claims of competing products. For example, the standards could be updated to include notation of what user groups a standard addresses.
The Access Board should clarify the relationship of the five conformance factors of WCAG 2 with Section 508. For example, WCAG 2 requires that conformance is met at a given conformance level, for full pages, for a complete process, in an assistive technology supported manner, and with non-interference when alternatives are provided. The ANRPM does not indicate these factors other than acknowledge them as WCAG conformance requirements.
Chapter 5 indicates that Section 502 Interoperability with Assistive technology does not have to be met if WCAG Level A and AA success criteria and WCAG conformance criteria are met. This exception could allow applications to interfere with assistive technology or not support OS features such as high contrast that have historically be required by Section 508. For example, section 502.3.2 requires that an application does not disrupt documented accessibility features. This standard could be ignored under the currently proposed language as long as the WCAG conformance claim of “assistive technology supported” could be made.
The Access Board must remove the exception for Section 502 and 503 when WCAG 2 Level A and AA are met or must require interoperability and non-interference with assistive technology and features in the proposed standards.
Question 1: As discussed above, in response to public comments, the Board has made significant changes to the 2010 ANPRM by consolidating, streamlining, and removing provisions and advisories to improve readability, comprehensibility, and usability. The Board seeks comment on this new approach.
This approach used in the 2011 ANPRM is much clearer and direct than the prior 2010 ANPRM. SSB agrees with this updated approach. As previously noted, SSB recommends the Access Board provide a checklist to assist evaluators to consistently indicate compliance with referenced standards.
Question 2: As noted above, the Board has changed the approach taken towards covered electronic content (E205.1) in the 2011 ANPRM. The proposed requirement in Section E205.1 requires electronic content falling into certain categories of official communications by federal agencies to be accessible. Should additional or different types of communications be included in this subsection? What are the benefits and costs of this approach? Would such an approach have any unintended consequences on federal agency communications?
SSB agrees with the requirement that electronic content used by agencies must be accessible to users with disabilities. It is beneficial that the Access Board has expressly indicated certain categories of content and has noted that categories not covered may still be applicable under Section 504 for the Rehabilitation Act. There are two specific areas that should be reviewed. The first is the exception to documents that in the collaboration and draft stages. It is important that employees with disabilities that are required to contribute to these documents can do so by ensuring that these documents meet the information and communication technology (ICT) standards. Good accessibility design principles indicate that content should be designed for accessibility from the ground-up and thus accessibility should be addressed in these documents in the draft stages.
The Access Board has also indicated an exception for documents that are solely for archival use only. Archived documents may need to be accessed in the future – for example in the case of medical records. The Access Board should consider that at the time of archival information from the native format of the document should be stored as part of the archival process to ensure the accessibility of the archived document upon retrieval. Requiring archived documents to meet the entire ICT standards may not be practical but the Access Board should consider a requirement for metadata and structure of the document to be captured in the archival process.
The addition of Section 504 – Authoring Tools will assist agencies in meeting the above requirements.
Question 3: In the discussion above, the Board has changed the approach to the functional performance criteria for limited hearing (302.5) and limited vision (302.2) in the 2011 ANPRM to require three specific features to be provided. These features may be provided either directly or through the use of assistive technology. The Board requests information on whether the features listed in these functional performance requirements will provide accessibility to users with limited vision or hearing, or whether there are other features which should be required in addition or instead. What are the costs and benefits associated with requiring the three features?
It is helpful to provide specific testing criteria for these functional performance criteria (FPC). However, indicating only three criteria limits the scope of what users in that category may need. For example, many users with low vision will need keyboard access, a magnified pointer, or some degree of speech access.
The ANPRM does not explicitly require that functional performance criteria must not be mutually exclusive. ICT developers could assume from the FPC that they can provide separate modes of operation that meet each functional performance criteria but that do not meet more than one at a given time. If this occurs the needs of users with disabilities will likely not be met.
The Access Board should explicitly indicate that the functional performance criteria are not mutually exclusive or the FPC should be updated to include other tests such as “operable regardless of input method used” and cover the different functional aspects of access such as input, navigation, readability, distinguishability, etc. These criteria should be aligned with the different success criteria used in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.
Question 4: As noted above, the 2011 ANPRM has changed the relationship between the functional performance criteria and the technical provisions (E204.1). The Board seeks comment on the proposed approach requiring conformance with the functional performance criteria at all times, even when the technical provisions are met. What are the costs and benefits associated with this approach?
SSB agrees with this approach. This is consistent with how the standards are currently interpreted by most Federal government agencies. In most cases, there is a large overlap between the two sets of items and SSB does not believe it creates a substantial increase in scope to current compliance practices. These two sections act as a set of checks and balances to ensure the intent of the legislation is achieved.
Question 5: The 2011 ANPRM requires websites to be accessible to individuals with disabilities by conforming to WCAG 2.0. WCAG 2.0 allows a non-conforming (i.e., inaccessible) webpage to be considered compliant if there is an accessible mechanism for reaching an accessible version of the webpage that is up to date and contains the same information and functionality as the inaccessible webpage. A web page that meets all these criteria qualifies as a “conforming alternate version” and is intended to provide individuals with disabilities equivalent access to the same information and functionality as the non-conforming web page. However, unrestricted use of conforming alternate versions may facilitate the emergence of two separate websites: one for individuals with disabilities and another for individuals without disabilities. Alternatively, restricting the use of conforming alternate versions may result in significant costs to federal departments and agencies by limiting their options for providing accessible content.
Should the Board restrict the use of conforming alternate versions? The Board seeks comments on whether allowing inaccessible content, even with conforming alternate versions, negatively affects the usability and accessibility of websites by individuals with disabilities. The Board also requests comments on the difficulty or costs that may be incurred if Federal departments or agencies are not free to use conforming alternate versions of content along with inaccessible content.
SSB is a strong proponent of providing a single source of information without relying on alternative sites. However, SSB understands that in some situations alternatives may be necessary given practical time and budget constraints and the need to provide accessibility. However, because alternatives are often not sufficiently maintained, alternatives should only be used as a last resort. SSB recommends that the US Access Board keep this alternative clause in the standards, but strengthen the language around it to indicate that alternatives should only be available when the standard content cannot be made accessible and best efforts to make the primary interface accessible have been demonstrated. For example, a technology does not allow for a feature to be implemented in an accessible fashion and the due diligence to show this is the case has been documented.
Additionally, the Access Board should indicate that the steps used to access the alternative content should be equivalent in effort to that of accessing the non-alternative content.
Question 6: As noted above, Chapter 4 addresses features of ICT which may be used to communicate or produce electronic content or retrieve information or data. Some of the sections addressing these features of ICT include but are not limited to: Two Way Voice Communication (408), Operable Parts (407), and Standard Connections (406). The Board seeks comment on whether it should provide additional provisions to address accessibility concerns associated with features of ICT, such as content displayed on small screens, which are not otherwise addressed. For example the Board is considering whether to allow an exception to subsection 402.4 for text size for ICT which has a smaller screen. Should the Board require a minimum or maximum screen size to display content? Should a minimum text size be specified for display on a screen? When ICT communicates or produces electronic content or retrieves information or data, are there additional unique limiting features that are not adequately addressed in these provisions, such as screen and text size and battery life, which the Board should address?
SSB understands that this is a challenging topic. While requiring specific text sizes and screen sizes will be helpful for users who have low vision, there may be drawbacks to these approaches. One solution provided in the functional performance criteria is to ensure that the content can be magnified and that sufficient contrast is provided. Accessing content through a magnified screen, however, can be slower and cause the user to miss information. Additional issues, such as the tracking of magnification and stability issues with the platform, can arise.
SSB recommends a hybrid approach which requires certain font and screens sizes or an alternative that allows for magnification within limits. For example, the level of magnification to bring a screen that does not the meet requirements into compliance must be no greater than a given level (e.g. 2x) of magnification. Additionally, when options are made, the magnification used to meet the requirement must properly track focus changes and be proven to be compatible with the platform.
Question 7: The 2011 ANPRM has retained the approach of addressing features of ICT which make the ICT accessible and usable to individuals with disabilities. Are there some features or technologies addressed in the ANPRM that are obsolete or that have changed in a way that makes the proposed requirements irrelevant or difficult to apply? If so, commenters should recommend revisions to those section(s) of the ANPRM that should be updated and, if possible, recommend specific changes that would address the needs of individuals with disabilities and the unique characteristics of the technology concerned.
SSB agrees with the approach of addressing certain features of ICT. This is consistent with success criteria of WCAG 2 which addresses aspects such as error handling, keyboard access, updating content, etc.
Question 8: Some modern touch screen devices, such as versions of some smartphones and tablets, have proved popular with people who are blind, despite not having keys which are tactilely discernible. Should the provision requiring that input controls be tactilely discernible (407.3) be revised to allow for such novel input methods? Should the Board add an exception to 407.3 to allow for input controls which are not tactilely discernible when access is provided in another way? If so, how should access be addressed when the controls are not tactilely discernible? Should a particular technology or method of approach be specified?
Yes, SSB believes an exception should be made to allow for touch screen devices that are proven to be accessible to be compliant with the standards. The Board should, however, take into account all input methods and not just those required by someone who is blind. For example, the input methods of people with limited mobility and people with multiple disabilities must be taken into account. The size of the touch screen area and the ability to use a pointing device or external keyboard must also be considered. For all of these input methods, a device must be required to show that the touch based method is comparable in complexity and speed to standard touch screen access when used in accessible manner. For example, gesture based touch screen access on the iPhone provides comparable access for the blind for must actions, but entering data is somewhat slower. On the other hand, touch screen access on many voting machines that require the user to touch a certain corner of the screen as the only 4 commands for controlling the system significantly limits the user’s ability to review information in a timely manner. Such an approach on a mobile phone would be too limiting and not provide substantially equivalent access to users with disabilities.
Question 9: As discussed above, the subsection for WCAG 2.0 conformance (E207.2) for user interface components and content of platforms and applications is intended to set a single standard for user interfaces, without regard to underlying rendering mechanisms, such as web browsers, operating systems, or platforms. Is applying the WCAG 2.0 Success and Conformance criteria to electronic documents and applications outside the web browser environment sufficient and clear to users, or should the Board provide further clarification? Are there other accessibility standards more applicable to user interface components and content of platforms and applications than WCAG 2.0 that the Board should reference?
The WCAG 2.0 guidelines are the correct set of guidelines to use as the basis for most features of software, platforms and content. There are, however, additional items that the Board does address in the Platform and Application section that WCAG does not cover that must continue to be required under Section 508 to address the complete accessibility challenges for non-browser based software and content. These items include interoperability support, use of application’s programming interfaces (APIs), compatibility with and capability of operating systems to produce different color schemes for color contrast along with accessibility features such as caret blink rate, width, etc. Software and platforms, including browsers, must follow these additional standards to ensure that content can be accessible to all users. The User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) 2.0 draft documents from the W3C provide useful information in this area and should be consulted for further harmonization. The W3C indicates the UAAG as an integral part of WCAG.