Ben Langhinrichs

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Five products, no GUI - How to be Section 508/WAI compliant?

Tue 13 Sep 2005, 09:09 PM

by Ben Langhinrichs
I had a US government agency ask me recently if our software is Section 508 compliant.  No surprise, as we sell to governments all over the world, including the US, and they have to ask the question, but it is a difficult one to answer.  Genii Software has five major products, CoexEdit, CoexLinks, Midas Rich Text LSX, Midas Rich Text C++ API and @Midas Formulas, and not one of them has a user interface.  The first two are "plug-in" solutions that work under the covers on the server, and the latter three are extensions to languages (LotusScript, C++ and formula language), but not one has any interface of its own.

So, taking the simple view that if you have nothing to be incompliant, you are compliant, we obviously comply with Section 508, as well as the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and other governmental accessibility standards that various governments require.  But that misses the bigger picture.  Our products are themselves compliant, but we also strive to be sure that our products help others be compliant.

It can be a challenge to enforce Section 508 accessibility and WAI accessibility on a Domino driven website, since the HTML generated by Domino is often incompliant.  Since we are also in the business of generating HTML, we have taken the approach of generating HTML that is accessible (and standards based) by default, but also giving users the ability to make it even more accessible.  We actually added the first additional layer of this enhanced accessibility back in July of 2001.  If you simply add the parameter WAICompliant="Yes" to your HTML or XHTML generation properties, additional steps will be taken to ensure that your images have appropriate alt tags, your tables are accessible, etc.  Of course, only so much can be deduced, so it is also possible, and recommended, that you add appropriate alt tags and such to your table properties, and we ensure that these are carried through to your HTML properly.

So, have we done enough?  Not in my opinion.  I think building an accessible web, and an accessible Notes client environment, are key goals that require creativity and appropriate tools.  It is still too hard to create proper tables with designated headers and footers, both of which are key to access for those who cannot see the table, but rather must hear it.  It is still too easy to create cool looking text that is inaccessible, and forget to create a "text only" version that is simpler.  We will continue to address these issues in our code and in our solutions, and hope that IBM likewise will continue to focus on accessibility, not just for its software as software, but for the applications which will run on its software.

Copyright 2005 Genii Software Ltd.

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