Accessible content: legal and regulatory update

Facade of a government building.The time when content producers could focus on delivering a given visual appearance without concerning themselves with underlying structure or reusability is coming to an end.

As is so often the case, litigation and regulation are key harbingers of change. Three recent developments, all from February 2014, are worth considering:

  • In the US Department of Justice’s landmark consent decree under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), H&R Block agreed to make its website accessible. The company will also pay damages and a civil penalty.
  • The updated Section 508 regulations are now in the hands of the Office of Management and Budget; the rule-making is expected to become public later this year. The new rules will set accessibility requirements for federal and contractors’ websites and non-web content. Expected to be based on WCAG 2.0, the new rules will be significantly tougher than the existing 2001 regulations.
  • The European Parliament has passed an amended Directive on public-sector websites. The new law requires EU member states to ensure all public websites are fully accessible.

In terms of text-based content (as opposed to images, movies, etc), it’s clear that websites are made up of HTML and (largely) PDF files.

The libraries needed to produce software that make accessible PDF documents and forms, including conformance with PDF/UA, are increasingly available. But are end-user software developers ready? Some are, but many are not.

PDF is a major feature of institutional websites in general, and government websites in particular. Quite apart from ad hoc documents, PDF is also a key technology for transactional records – invoices, statements and other personalized content. Developers of these systems should watch this space.

Now would be a good time to invest in supporting tagged PDF.



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