Visualize this: You’re driving to a friend’s place which has no road signs or distinct land markers. Your chances of finding this friend’s place without someone or GPS to direct you are probably none. Furthermore, should you be expected to find this same place in darkness, giving up to head home might not seem like a bad idea, right?
A Web site works similarly: if there are no clear directions on how to navigate through the site or it has poor visual cues on how to convey the content, then it will be given a low ranking and no accessibility. If this is the case for people with the gift of sight, imagine the plight of millions of visually challenged visitors who would want to access and locate content on your site.
An accessible Web site provides assistance in communicating effectively with the widest audience by flattening roadblocks in interaction. All it requires of the Web site owners is to follow Best Practices in site and content design principals to make the Web site easily reachable for all. The most common categories that hinder accessibility are:
o Blindness and Low Vision. A whole range of computer technology can provide assistance ranging from screen readers, refreshable Braille displays and screen magnifiers. Assistance in keyboard/ Web site navigation, scalable display font sizes, fuzzy searches, alt tags for all images and high contrast between the background and the text go a long way.
o Cognitive and Learning Disabilities. Simple and intuitive navigation, consistency in content presentation through out the Web site, clear labels and ALT tags, relevant and meaningful content, lengthy documents carrying executive summaries at the top and language understood by a wider audience.
o Impairment of hearing. Websites needs to be accessible with content captioning synchronized with multimedia and other manners of rendering content as well as interactive volume controls.
o Mobility and Speech Impairment. Technology providing assistance usually requires computer hardware at user site and assistive Web site architecture. This includes one-handed keyboards, head/mouth sticks and full eye tracking on user’s computer. Web site navigation using voice recognition provides an easy way to navigate through a Web site.
Access Ramp to your Websites?
Designing navigable sites for people with disabilities is not only federally mandated in some cases it is also socially desirable and makes good business sense too. The organization pursuing it comes across as one that has a strong sense of social responsibility, and sensitive to the needs of the otherwise challenged. It is also desirable because legislation like Section 508 (of the Rehabilitation act) mandate that US federal agencies have their Websites accessible for the blind and visually impaired with the help of screen readers.
Section 508, for those not conversant with the Act, requires “federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities…Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. ‘794d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others.”
While this is not mandatory for private organizations, many have voluntarily made their Websites Section 508-compliant as such requirements may be enforced in the future. Census data points out that in 2002, out of 222 million Americans (15 years and above), there were 46 million with some form of disability (30 million severe). This number is expected to swell up to 54 million in 2007. It is only a matter of time before private organizations realize the importance of presenting their Web site in a manner that is fully accessible to visually challenged people. With such a huge base, smart private organizations cannot afford to overlook people with disabilities. Even with the annual mean earning of this segment was $23,034 against an average of $31,840 in 2002, it is estimated that they control over $175 billion in discretionary income.
Despite this not inconsiderable opportunity, most businesses have not actively taken steps to make their Web site Section 508 compliant. As with any other technology adoption, cost is undoubtedly one of the major factors that influences decision making. Developing, maintaining and repurposing content to conform to Section 508 guidelines is an expensive and resource intensive job. When guidelines change, the content or framework of the whole site needs to change too. When you consider that these changes have to be made to thousands of pages on a Web site, the effort is tedious and time consuming.
Requirements for accessible Websites
For a Web site to be easily navigable by visually challenged, screen readers are needed. Organizing content, appropriate titling and linking are critical sign posts that enable screen readers to access and read out content in the same way as a person with normal sight would interpret it. Designing such a Web site is no less challenging, as the screen reader needs to intelligently convey to the person on the site how to browse, communicate relationships between content elements, and the type of content. These requirements will be slightly different for a person who can see but has poor vision. Those falling into this category will need their content in large fonts, and visually bright colors and large image sizes.
When you consider that Web site content management itself is a challenge, Section 508 compliance requirements take this challenge to a whole new level. In addition to requirements of content, usability, design and information architecture – you will need to separate form from content, and do it to make it accessible for people with all categories of disability. This is not a task for faint hearted unless you have a comprehensive Web CMS system to handle content requirements.
Web site CMS can help Build the right Ramp
A Web site content management system is the right tool in taking over the task of creation, maintenance and management of a Web site. Most notably, it allows organizations to maintain consistency across all pages of their Web site – which is absolutely critical when it comes to a Web site which is going to be accessed by a visually challenged person.
A Web site CMS like CrownPeak can for instance, enforce design and navigation schemes, and the presentation of content through standardized presentation templates. These templates can ensure that the content presentation, titling and linking are arranged in such a way that it would enable visually challenged people to easily navigate the site using voice commands. As templates control how data is displayed throughout the Web site, subject matter experts can create content without having to worry about Section 508 compliance.
The company’s versioning and content monitoring tools can also enable government organizations to become instantly compliant with data archive regulations, as they are established.
Features like complete system auditing and reporting provide government organizations the ability to manage and track the history of all work easing adherence to compliance regulations. Files can be given a full document lifecycle, including check-in, check-out, versioning, rollback, approvals, and scheduling.
A Web site content management system also has intelligent workflow automation, ensuring that content passes through appropriate quality gates before being published. Additionally, completely configurable workflows enable organizations to assign tasks to any person, and scale up when defined thresholds are crossed. For example, e-mail alerts can be sent to content owners of specific sections on a Web site when these sections don’t get updated after a specific time period. This is difficult to do in a manual system.
To summarize, a Web content management system can provide the following benefits:
o Improving efficiency and maintaining consistency with respect to regulations
o Reducing non-compliant code violations
o Reduced maintenance cost.
Why should you consider SaaS Model?
While Web site content management systems help users manage content more effectively, government organizations will realize that most content management systems are expensive to procure, complex to implement and configure, and require more resources to maintain.
To address these issues, organizations can consider using Web site content management systems that are delivered through Software-as-a-Service model. By accessing ‘software’ as a service, organizations are spared the high initial cost of purchasing the license. Moreover, as the software is hosted, there is no hardware to buy and no software to purchase and install. The subscribing organization only pays fixed monthly or quarterly fees and leaves the task of managing, maintaining and upgrading the software to the vendor. This is extremely important for government organizations that have tight budgets and growing Web site related responsibilities.
Currently, CrownPeak manages Web content for the office of the US Trade Representative, helping America’s chief trade negotiator and trade policy advisor manage a continuous shuffling of Web site content, maintain indexing and categorization of various content types, and sustain accessibility and records management compliance.
CrownPeak also helps the Commonwealth of Virginia manage the Web site that serves as the gateway site to every Virginia government related resource, with information ranging from government elections data to travel and tourism. The vendor also provides a dedicated account manager, with an escalation path for support. By using a SaaS model, government organizations can also cut down on their risk, and choose different functionalities as the requirements grow. Further, as billing is on a monthly or quarterly basis, costs are spread across the lifetime of a product’s usage. This is an extremely attractive value proposition when compared to the traditional CMS model, where costs are paid upfront and the risk of product implementation and adoption rests totally on the organization.
That is not all. CrownPeak Lifelong Active Support ensures that content management Best Practices are available at all times. It has been estimated that 91% of all support requirements are unrelated to software and organizations deploying enterprise CMS have to make additional investments to cover this need. CrownPeak Lifelong Active Support covers these requirements automatically giving the true complete coverage of all support needs.
Accessible to All
The Internet is a powerful and influential medium. By enabling visually challenged people to access Websites, government and private organizations can take the lead in creating a future that allows every citizen to explore a vast world of information in an unhindered manner. While it is a mandatory requirement for government organizations, it is a highly desirable social responsibility for others as well; and CrownPeak Web content management system ensures that you do not have to make a large dent in your budget to achieve this goal.