Frequently Asked Questions

Commonwealth of Virginia Accessibility and Web Site Standards

This document is a consolidation of questions that have been posed to the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) and the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) by agencies, contractors, and members of the disability community regarding the Accessibility and Web Site Standards. The responses to these questions are intended to promote a better understanding of the requirements of the Standards. This document is purely informational; it neither creates new standards nor changes the existing Standards. This document assumes the reader has a technical understanding of web site development.

Click to Open or CloseAccessibility vs. Web Site Standards

Q: Is accessibility part of the Web Site Standard?

A: The Accessibility Standard is a distinct standard, and the Web Site Standard is a second, separate standard; however, the two standards are closely related. When you work on a web site, you will deal with both issues. Depending on your method of implementation, you will most likely find that it is easier to address the requirements of both Standards simultaneously, rather than going through and making accessibility changes and then going back and adding all the Web Site Standard components.

To comply with the Web Site Standard, you will be working towards the common look and feel, which will coincidentally aid accessibility and usability. You will also be implementing accessibility techniques for your entire web site, but, the Accessibility Standard addresses more than just web sites. Accessibility also applies to all other forms of information technology, including software applications and operating systems, self-contained or closed products such as information kiosks, printers, and copiers, also laptops and portable computers as well as telecommunications products, and video or multimedia products.

Click to Open or CloseAccessibility Standard

Q: Does accessibility include mainframe access also?

A: To the extent that a system or application is public facing; if it is not public facing, it is not an accessibility issue. It has been pointed out that the behind-the-scene technology that makes a system operate is not an accessibility issue. Keep in mind, however, that "public facing" includes employee facing.

When evaluating implementation plans related to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the courts have considered each case individually and have consistently questioned whether a plan is considered "reasonable", given the available resources. So, the implementation does need to state a rational date when the systems or applications will be fully accessible compliant.

 

Q: Do large applications like Pay line, lease accounting, fax, etc. have to be accessible if they are used only by state employees?

A: If it is used by state employees, it is publicly facing, but, to a state employee. It is important to note that state employees are part of the public and that even though you have to have a password to get into some applications, such as Pay line, that application must also comply with the Standard.

 

Q: What about other applications that are not web, such as FoxPro and Access applications?

A: Those types of internal applications must comply with the Standards. The Section 508 requirements, including procurement of accessible IT products, have been federal law for a number of years now. Since must vendors would like to sell to the federal government, their products most likely have accessibility features already built in. If it is accessible to the public, or to employees, or to other county or local groups, it definitely needs to be accessible.

 

Q: Since the Accessibility Standard has a much broader scope than just web sites, are there plans to include other people who develop non-web-page applications in future communications and workshops?

A: Consideration is being given to holding a seminar for non-web applications and systems. If you know of someone or a group of people in your agency who should be included on the distribution list for information about these non-web applications, please contact Eric Perkins (eric.perkins@vita.virginia.gov).

 

Q: I have not seen pages designed that are data-entry pages with multiple buttons such as submit, refresh, go back, go forward, skip this page, put it in my shopping cart, etc. How do those types of pages work with the accessibility format?

A: There are many pages that integrate those features. Learning how to make heavy-duty applications work through these new Standards provides a great opportunity for networking and working together. A notice can be placed in the " That’s New" section of the WATG and people can sign up if they want to get together and work through some of the technical issues involved in converting to the Standard. A series of meetings could also be posted on the WATG site so anyone interested would be aware.

Click to Open or CloseTimelines

Q: What are the timelines for implementing the Standards?

A: The Commonwealth’s Standards echo the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Since this legislation has been in place for a number of years, most sites are hopefully already close to compliance.

A reasonable plan for reaching compliance required by the Accessibility Standard is due within six months of the November 4, 2005, effective date of the Standard – that is, May 4, 2006. Since there is no specific accessibility implementation deadline, you will follow your plan for implementation; nevertheless, implementation of the requirements should be a priority and your plan will become the implementation timeline and its dates de-facto deadlines.

The Website Standard implementation is different. Your implementation plan is due within three months of the November 4, 2005 effective date of the Standard – that is, February 4, 2006. Compliance on look and feel is due within one year of the November 4, 2005 effective date of the Standard – that is November 4, 2006.

Click to Open or CloseTerms Used in the Web Site Standard

Q: What is the definition of "public" access used in the Standard?

A: If the site is externally facing, if it is not an internal application, if people can access the application regardless of their access method, it falls under the Web Site Standards. Intranets are not affected by the Web Site Standards; but, every web application of any variety must comply with the Accessibility Standard.

Click to Open or CloseWeb Site Standard

Q: Does the Web Site Standard apply to public local government sites that are not state agencies, not accessible to the general public and not password protected?

A: No. The Web Site Standards apply only to Executive Branch agencies of the Commonwealth.

 

Q: Will you provide us with the template for the Web Site Standard?

A: The WATG site in and of itself is the template that DARS is using. All of the source code and anything that has been developed including the actual templates are provided. On the site, there is an example of a template page that is available in zip format, which includes the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), some images, and source code. The site is being expanded to include other applications. For instance, the form application is going to be a completely accessible form application that fits into DARS’ template and all of the source codes for that are provided. So as long as you have the required database components, you can use it.

To comply with the look and feel is really not difficult. The biggest focus for the Web Site Standard is the top 100 pixels on all your web pages. Once you get your first page done, especially if you are using Dynamic Include, Server Side Includes, FrontPage Includes, etc., you can make site-wide changes very quickly. You have to look at how your left menu is handled and your footer. It is a matter of what your header looks like, the placement of your menu on the left and the basic footer that should be on every site. That will address specific items outlined in the standard such as:

  • the background color of your top navigation bar,
  • the placement of links at the top,
  • the placement of the search engine feature,
  • the use of a search engine,
  • the placement of your logo,
  • the height of the header section,
  • the height of the breadcrumb section,
  • the location of your menu items,
  • the number of menu items; and
  • a screen resolution of 800 X 600.

That is basically the web site standard in a nutshell. Then you have applications to consider and they will all fit in also.

The Web Site Standard can actually simplify your job in a pretty significant way because all the content on all your pages on all your sites is set up in a similar fashion. If you use "include" files for your menu systems, your header, your footer, portions of your content, and your search functionality, you make one change one place and it is all done in five seconds. The pages contain less lines of code so they load faster. There will be circumstances with some big applications where it will take time to figure out how to make certain pieces or certain functionalities work under these standards. But, by and large, the content and the sites themselves are much easier to maintain.

Because you are left with a simple text-only site, you can do certain things, especially if you are using CSS to a large degree. There is functionality. When somebody hits the print button, only the content prints; or they can choose to print the whole site. The size of the text can be changed. The contrast of your content area can be changed so it can look different for different people. People can apply their own style sheets and can hit your sites using their cell phones because all you are really passing is text and simple imagery. There are a lot of really positive affects that come out of implementing these Standards.

 

Q: How will the use of style sheets affect the look and feel?

A: Many users are not aware that the browser can be used to change the size of the text, change the contrast and remove style sheets. Everything is set up in a specific way using the default style sheet. What you cannot do is create a style sheet that moves the menu to the other side of the page or that changes the whole layout of the site so that it does not conform to the look and feel policies. If you remove style sheets or you use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), the items are going to move to the linear format listed in your code.

 

Q: Can we use our own graphics for the header?

A: You can use your own graphics. You can use different images for the background and for the logo and you can tagline all of that material as you see fit. As far as the look and feel is concerned, sites can have different color schemes, and different types of menu, but, the placement is the same, which is what is meant by "common look and feel". The sites will be similar enough that your average user will understand they are all Commonwealth of Virginia web sites. For examples of some acceptable "common look and feel", see http://www.vadsa.org/watg, http://www.vadrs.org, and http://www.vaboard.org.

 

Q: Can you provide some clarification on the use of tables on web sites?

A: The point of a table is to display tabular data. Tables should be used only for data that has several columns with potentially hundreds of different records. That data should be displayed in a specific way and needs to be set up in a specific way. Tables should not be used for the layout and design in your web site presentation.

The Standard also states "if the table does not make sense, provide an alternative equivalent". An alternative equivalent to a table would be something like a "div" that is relatively or absolutely positioned using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to display something you would have otherwise used the table to display (for example, if there is a set number of columns, but the types of data change from field to field). A table would not serve that purpose well, so you would use an alternative method like a list.

There is a great resource site at www.alistapart.com which is managed by a group of developers who use standard base design techniques an d find ways around some common problems. In some cases, CSS is used. That format would serve as an alternative to a table and is not quite as linear as some others.

 

Q: Does the existence of certain elements (such as global search and breadcrumb navigation) in the Web Site Standards indicate that these elements must be present?

A
: Not necessarily. If you have a certain number of pages in your site or beyond, then global search and breadcrumb navigation really does facilitate the site’s use. But, if that site or application is so small that there is no need for a search function, then, it is not necessary to include one. However, if your site offers a basic or advanced search function, it needs to be accessible.

 

Q: Localized navigation is not addressed in the Web Site Standard. Frequently, the navigation has been put into content; but, if every agency comes up with a "solution" and puts it in the content, the primary benefit of the common look and feel is lost.

A: The menu systems, as the primary navigational structure, must be similar from site to site. There are different ways of performing the navigation, but, the common look and feel must be upheld. We are looking at multiple levels with the breadcrumbs, which can be done in a variety of ways.

This issue provides another excellent opportunity for networking. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the solution. There is a forum application on the WATG site where suggestions can be shared so that there is enough exposure to start an exchange of ideas and, hopefully, arrive at solutions for this and other common problems.

Click to Open or CloseExemption from the Web Site Standards

Q: Would an exemption be appropriate for application types with "accept" and "cancel" buttons, and things that are very different from just text and verbiage?

A: One of the biggest parts of the look and feel component is to pull some of those design elements into a more simple style for all the different users of the site. That is why we consider the different kinds of menu options. There are other applications very similar to the kind that you are describing that have a lot of form elements with a lot of different options. In most circumstances, all of those elements would fit into the content area for that specific application. For big applications, it may take some time to figure out how to make certain pieces or functionalities work.

 

Q: Does DMV’s pin application to change a license plate have to be compliant to the Web Site Standard?

A: The Web Site Standard makes provision for exemptions. Certain entities such as institutes of higher education, museums, the Library of Virginia, and the Virginia Tourism Corporation are exempt. In the case of tourism, they are in a position where they compete with other states for tourist revenue. They need to have flexibility in look and feel their web site to differentiate themselves from other states. That would argue for them being exempt because of the commercial needs. While DMV’s site has commercial needs, too, however, it is a public-facing site that is of use to almost all Virginians and the DMV is not competing with another entity (nobody else is distributing driving licenses in the Commonwealth of Virginia), therefore it would most likely be required to comply with the Standard.

Click to Open or CloseWeb Site and Accessibility Compliance

Q: How is compliance (non-compliance) determined for large, decentralized web sites over which the agency has no enforcement authority?

A: The Web Site Standard applies to all state agencies If your agency’s site is linking through to a county site or a municipal site, their site can look and feel any way they want. But, within our own organization, the Executive Branch, the enforcement really comes through APA audit and audit findings that may develop if you are not in compliance with the web site standard.

On the other hand, the Accessibility Standard is mandated by the Code of Virginia and it applies throughout the Commonwealth. It applies to state agencies as outlined in the Accessibility Standard. Code and Federal Statutes impact the accessibility of web sites for non-state agencies. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 impact all levels of government as well as the private sector. If a complaint is registered against a state, municipality or local government, noncompliance goes through the Department of Justice. The obligation to provide accessibility has existed since 1973 and exposure to liability certainly exist if a complaint is made with Department of Justice.

 

Q: Some old web sites use very old technology (i.e. frames and heavy table structures) and include very deep structure problems. Bringing them into compliance may take longer than a year. How firm is the compliance date?

A: Because we anticipated that certain agencies would be faced with a really daunting challenge, there is an exemption process. The request for exemption should explain why the exemption is needed, describe the work-around to provide equivalent access and define the time frame for actually achieving compliance. It would be in your best interest to indicate how you have taken advantage of the technical assistance that has been offered, particularly if you are citing resources. The individuals who will review your request want to work with you and will consider any request with a reasonable explanation and reasonable plan for compliance. You will also receive the treatment and assistance you need.

Click to Open or CloseFormat

Q: Which CSS elements are safe for older browsers?

 

A: Most agencies have a specific browser that is used agency-wide. For DARS, that is Internet Explorer. Some of the Cascading Style Sheets elements will not display properly in Netscape or in Firefox or in older versions of the most common browsers, and CSS2 is not that widely supported yet. A service called www.browsercam.com loads your site in several computers with different operating systems and different versions of the browsers; and, it gives you, literally, a picture in a pre-designated resolution that shows you what your site looks like and how it operates under those circumstances.

 

Q: Are there minimum requirements and templates for the privacy policy, the links policy, and so forth?

 

A: Those areas must meet the requirements of the Code of Virginia; and, in fact, privacy statements exist because they are Code-mandated. The language for the Virginia Assistive Technology System (VATS) site came directly from the Code. There is information available on the WATG site in addition to policy statements on the DARS sites that are not copyrighted and are available to anyone who would like to use them. DARS Webmasters (webmaster@dars.virginia.gov) and Eric Perkins (eric.perkins@vita.virginia.gov) can provide some assistance, and, your agencies representative in the Attorney General’s office would have a good grasp on the language of the Code.

 

Q: Has there been any discussion with regards to the use of Spanish considering the growing Hispanic population in Virginia?

A: There are no issues related to alternate language formats that raise an accessibility problem and alternative language versions of the site are strongly encouraged. Some of the open source or free tools that are out there may not be quite as efficient as something like the HiSoftware products, such as AccVerify and AccRepair, that VITA is providing free of cost to agencies. If you do use a tool that reports errors because some of your content is in a different language, then, that is obviously something you can overlook. You know that is not an actual problem; it is a flaw in the tool.

 

Q: The template seems to be focused primarily on content delivery; however, functional applications require some different paradigms and some types of applications are data-entry intensive. Are these types of applications addressed well in the Standards?

A: They are addressed fairly well and there are a few examples that might provide some guidance on functional applications. One site to view is www.vadrs.org/essp. This is a public facing site and it is part of the Employment Services and Special Programs (ESSP) web site, which in turn is part of the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) web site. Consequently, the template needs to exist around it. The application has a variety of little features and is fully compliant. It also includes its own individual search function which is facilitated because of the number of records.

A lot of the older sites that require intensive data entry have huge forms that can easily be split up and that allow you to pass variables from page to page. It is not necessary to build the whole form.

 

Q: Why is there a limit of twelve links in the navigation?

A: One of the primary points of discussion in the development committee’s sessions was the number of links in the navigation. During the formation stage of the Standard, most committee members felt the Standard was forcing their content. Over time, however, it became evident that without restrictions on the number of links, sites will migrate to the kind of unsynchronized chaotic, web delivery system we have right now.

The point of the requirement is to help move sites into categorized formats that assist people to obtain information easier. Large sites contain a lot of information. A site map allows people to see every available section or page of the site in one place; however, a lot of people (specifically individuals with cognitive or other disabilities) are incredibly confused by menus with multiple sub-items or drop lists. A recognizable, simple tab-based menu system allows everyone to quickly get to the information. For certain sites, that may require re-thinking how to link to your content and regrouping items into specific categories that you can hit from those 12 main menu items.

Having a limited number of links in the navigation provides advantages for users. Generally speaking, users are unfamiliar with our terminology, so having a menu system with various terms on it might not make sense to them. It might seem a very daunting task to locate needed information. Putting items into user-friendly categories like "career center" or "find an office" can greatly simplify the process.

Categorizing items in this fashion allows you to offer more information about your services. For example, before transitioning to this format, DARS had "VBIC" listed as a menu item. Even with an acronym tag attached to it, VBIC means nothing to anyone just moving to Virginia or someone new to the world of disability services. With the new system, detailed information is provided for each of the 12 main menu items.

 

Q: Are text-only pages required for particular web pages or for all web pages? Is there a template for text-only pages that address navigation?

A: There was a point in time in the history of accessibility standards where the text-only version of a web site was the end-all, be-all, and magic bullet solution. That time is definitely past; and, having a separate text-only site is generally not a very good idea. The W3C actively discourages the use of text-only sites because more accessible, simpler alternatives are available. People with visual impairments generally do not trust text-only web sites because in the past, when web sites have been updated, the text-only sites frequently were overlooked. So, most people rarely use text-only sites.

If you put a style sheet switcher on the site your users can have the ability to switch the style sheet or turn the style sheets off through the browser. If your agency has a really strict policy about placing cookies out there, there are versions of that code that do not use a cookie. And, there are alternatives to fix a simple java script that will allow you to change a cookie and hold it during a session for a user. So the user can come to your site and make the text bigger, take away all the images, change the background, and view it in a different format. They are limited only by the number of style sheets you set up. You can display your site in that way, but by default, it needs to display in the template format.

On the WATG site is a page that does not have the style sheet reference in it. It is a very simple text-based web page where the menu items are just a simple bulleted list on the top. Information can actually be displayed in text format. Everything can be laid out in linear fashion so technically the site is a text-only web site. It fools your eye into thinking it has tables and images, etc., but, that is all being managed by the style sheet. You can take what you have and transition it so that it works better for everybody, including you.

Click to Open or CloseResources

Q: Is staffing assistance available?

A: Through the VITA/DARS partnership, limited assistance is available through the expertise of DARS Webmasters at webmaster@dars.virginia.gov, Anastasia Flegas and the other individuals who are working with them. Visit http://www.vita.virginia.gov/library/default.aspx?id=663 for the latest document downloads.

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This File Was Last Modified: Monday November 10 2014