Little tweaks can mean big problems with Section 508

Since the first President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, agencies and businesses have been under pressure and progressively tighter regulations to make goods, employment and services available to the disabled.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 requires most federal offices to buy accessible IT products, with minor exceptions for military purchases that are primarily combat-related.

This guide focuses on Web development and publishing tools for accessible applications and documents.

Often the biggest barriers to accessibility are created unintentionally by coworkers or by management policies specifying that something always should be done a certain way.

For instance, many commercial Web sites use low-contrast background and text combinations simply because someone decided they look interesting, but they are harder to read.

That's no longer true of most federal sites, but a bigger problem lies with printed and electronically displayed documents.

In the old days, documents were limited to monochrome text with simple graphs and probably one or two fonts.

Today, even a novice Microsoft Office user can generate documents with dozens of font sizes and types, and multiple colors and images, all of which can be difficult for visually impaired workers to see.

Even worse, although Novell WordPerfect, once fairly common in government, had a useful "reveal codes" command that made it easy to edit, Microsoft Word and Office lack any easy way to let users see or modify formatting codes.

Fortunately, this has a simple and inexpensive fix: Levit & James' CrossEyes add-in for Word. CrossEyes not only displays Word formatting codes, it offers an easy way to edit them.

Some disabilities are obvious, and most people are quite ready to provide assistance for those people. But many cognitive or physical disabilities are invisible, and the problems encountered daily by people with disabilities such as dyslexia or color-blindness often are ignored.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@aol.com.

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