In September 2000 the following article by reporter Judy Heim, published in PC World Magazine, mentioned the role of Structured Negotiations in making banking websites accessible.
Web Sites Inch Toward Accessibility
Corporations are starting to see the importance of designing access for the disabled into their Web sites.
Friday, September 29, 2000 (02:44 PM PDT) — Australian Bruce Maguire wanted to use the official Olympic Games Web site to follow the games. But Maguire, who is blind, found the site inaccessible to the visually impaired. Now he has brought a damages claim against the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games before the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
Maguire’s frustrations are not unusual. Although in many ways the Internet is helpful to disabled people, it also can be a barrier, because very few Web sites are designed with accessibility in mind. For instance, blind people who use screen readers can’t access information unless it is presented in an accessible format.
Efforts are under way to define standards for designing accessible Web sites. The World Wide Web Consortium has a Web Accessibility Initiative that companies can use as a guideline. The basic rule is providing HTML code that can be read by text-only browsers and screen readers or providing alternate text and descriptions.
Testing the Sites
Web accessibility is a major concern at phone companies. At the human factors laboratory of SBC Technology Resources, a subsidiary of Southwestern Bell, computer users with disabilities put phone company Web sites to the test.
Dr. Elizabeth Gibson, a senior member of the technical staff, says people with disabilities, including hearing, vision, and mobility impairments, are asked to perform a simple task on a Web site. “We want to find out if the assistive technologies that they use are compatible with our site. We want to see if people know how to find what they want on a Web page,” she says. Testers also try Web pages from their homes and offices.
“We just did a study involving people at the Texas School for the Blind,” Gibson says. “We learned where people had trouble performing certain tasks. For example, some menu labels and titles were not intuitive. Sometimes the problem can be as simple as the way we’re constructing a data-entry field.”
Teaching Web Authors
Siemens has been adding accessibility features to both its external Web sites and its company intranet for three years. Stephen Berger, manager of standards and regulations in Siemens’ communication mobile group, says the greatest challenge is teaching accessibility coding to the company’s many Web page authors, who are scattered in 120 countries. Siemens has a central office that reviews pages for compliance to accessibility guidelines.
“We’re learning as we go,” Berger says. “Technology is moving so rapidly on the Web that keeping Web pages accessible will always be an ongoing challenge.”
Raising Awareness Hastens Change
IBM is retooling its Web site as part of a company-wide initiative to make all its products accessible. Kim Stephens, Webmaster at IBM’s accessibility center, says the biggest challenge is educating employees on the importance of Web accessibility.
“We’ve found that one of the most effective motivators it to let someone hear how their Web page sounds,” Stephens says. “When they hear how broken it sounds, that will inspire them to change it.”
Making a Web site accessible “does take a little bit of extra time, but once you’re familiar with the guidelines, it goes very quickly,” Stephens adds. “It also takes a lot less energy to make your Web site accessible from the beginning, rather than to go back and retool everything.”
Impatient for Change
In some instances, advocates for the disabled are prodding corporations to make their sites accessible. The California Council of the Blind is working toward settlements with many large financial institutions to make banking and other financial services on their Web sites navigable by screen readers.
The council has reached settlements with Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
“It’s really important to get people in the institutions to understand why the technology should be accessible,” says Lainey Feingold, a disability rights lawyer who represents the organization. “We approached the banks and said, ‘You have a problem here.’ They’ve been totally on board.’
Bank of America, which claims that more than 2.1 million customers bank on its Web site, began working with the council last spring to revamp its site.
“We have more than 3000 pages on our Web site. There’s a lot of content that needs to be looked at and modified, so it will take some time to deliver this service,” says Linda Mueller, a Bank of America spokesperson. The bank has no formal time line for completing the project.
This summer, the National Federation of the Blind reached a similar settlement with America Online. The organization had sued AOL, alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because its content could not be used with screen-reading programs. AOL is modifying its site to make it more accessible.
Although progress is slow, the good news is that many Web retailers feel that accessibility is an important goal. Joe Brockmeier, vice president of marketing at LinuxMall.com, says that LinuxMall has always designed its site with accessibility in mind. “It’s just good business,” he says.
Luisa Bustos of IDG Australia contributed to this report.