Full-access feds?

Bash a gimp. Steal the cane from a blind man and hit him upside the head with it. Talk dirty to a deaf woman while her back is turned. Do it. Do it! Or the feds will come and take away your right to make Web sites!

The preceding voice of evil was brought to you by the Freedom Forum, an organization dedicated to protecting and promoting free speech on the Internet. At least it was until last week, when for some reason it decided that Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was out to get us.

Section 508 could be broadly—very broadly—described as an Americans with Disabilities Act for the Net. It states that the federal government and any state accepting certain disability-related fed funding must, by August 2000, make its information and data equally available to folks with and without disabilities. For instance, if you are the Postal Service (gee, I’m sorry), and I’m a blind person visiting your Web site, you can’t design your site in such a way that I have to “choose the red or the green button to continue.” If I am the IRS, I can’t offer tax advice in only a streaming-audio format; I will be required to make a written version available for visitors with hearing loss. Get the idea?

Hey, equal access for all! Sounds warm and fuzzy to me. But the Freedom Forum is lathering up big-time. Where civil-rights advocates see increased freedom of information, government watchers see the beginnings of wholesale encroachment on the rights of Web weavers to design their sites as they see fit. According to some observers, what starts as feds-only legislation is destined to run roughshod over Web sites in the private sector, accomplishing the kind of Net censorship that years of anti-encryption, anti-privacy, and anti-indecency laws and lobbying have not.

I’m no fan of ham-handed legislation, and god knows the federal government has given me no faith in its ability to draft intelligent laws or guidelines for the Net. But seeing the geek press go flame-on against this legislation is not only bothersome from a some-reporters-wouldn’t-look-at-primary-source-material-if-it-was-clamped-to-their-ass standpoint but—where was I?—oh yeah, bothersome from a mindless-use-of-technology standpoint.

I know a few folk surfing with disabilities, but I know a lot of folks surfing with older browsers—through inertia, or because downloading and running an abortion like Internet Explorer 4.0 was enough to convince most non-geeks that sometimes there’s not a whole lot to be said for progress. There are a lot of people who don’t think that release of a new browser (or plug-in) on MicroMacro-RealScape’s part constitutes a 20MB download emergency on their part.

Usually, the bells and whistles that weigh down high-bandwidth sites are pretty trivial; most sites that do a lot of that kind of thing offer a low-bandwidth version. However, there are always a few jokers out there who hasten to slap on a coat of whatever technology is trendy. No technique is too new to require users to download before they cross your threshold; no graphic is too big and stupid.

At the moment, the feds are still working out what they mean by “accessible technology,” and even what information technology is covered by Section 508. We can get a good idea about what might be on the table, though, from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Accessibility Guidelines.

Those guidelines differentiate between what developers must, should, and might do to make their sites accessible. Some of the must-dos: provide a text equivalent or description for each graphic; don’t force people to use scripts or applets; put titles on things. If all else fails and you just can’t color in the lines, make a low-bandwidth version of your site with equivalent info.

Call me dense (out of earshot, please), but I can’t seem to get as worked up about putting titles on things as about, say, the Communications Decency Act. There is a world of difference between legislation that aims to keep certain information offline and legislation that aims to make online information available to more people. Section 508 isn’t anti-Net but antiStupid Net Tricks. As the Constitution-defending troops at the Freedom Forum know full well, important information deserves to be expressed as clearly and directly as possible.


agunn@seattleweekly.com


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

Seven decades later, the search for two missing Navy pilots continues

The pilots are thought to have disappeared near Black Lake, northeast of North Bend.

Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance

Nonprofits, activists are expecting greater need as workers are laid off.

A view of the Palmer Fire, located seven miles southwest of Oroville in north central Washington. Source: InciWeb
Antifa isn’t starting Washington wildfires

Online conspiracy theories are spreading as the West Coast burns.

The truck of the Renton family as it was found Tuesday. While fleeing the Cold Springs Fire two adults were severely burned and one toddler died. Courtesy photo/Okanogan Sheriff’s Office
Toddler killed as Renton family flees Cold Springs Fire

The parents were severely burned and are being treated at Harborview Medical Center

A plane drops fire retardant on the Palmer Mountain Fire last week. The fire is listed as 84 percent contained, and fully lined. Laura Knowlton/Sound Publishing staff photo
Threat multiplier: How climate change, coronavirus and weather are scorching WA

Dry summer conspired with the pandemic and a wind storm.

Screenshot from the state Employment Security Department’s website at esd.wa.gov.
Workers may qualify for an extra $1,500 in unemployment back pay

A federal program will give some of the state’s unemployed a $300 weekly bump for the past five weeks.

Screenshot of the air quality monitor at 11 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 8. Courtesy Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
King County faces unhealthy air quality due to wildfire smoke

Weather monitors recommend people limit time outdoors, especially children, seniors and those with heart or lung disease.

Image courtesy of the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Massive wildfires incinerate WA

All state Department of Natural Resources lands were closed to recreational activities on Sept. 8.

King County moves to Stage 2 burn ban

Outdoor fires, even barbecues or in fire pits, are now prohibited.

Amazon adds more office space to Bellevue, now as many new jobs as HQ2

The office space for an additional 10,000 jobs, making it 25,000 coming to downtown, is expected to complete in 2023.

Constantine announces King County climate action plan

Plots an example of decreased stormwater pollution, urban flooding prevention, immigrant connections

The YMCA of Greater Seattle opened its King County branches to provide child care centers dedicated to serving the families of essential workers. Courtesy photo
COVID continues to whittle away at child care in Washington

It’s estimated that 25% of Washington child care facilities have closed since the pandemic began.