The challenge of making federal Web sites friendly and interesting to disabled users

NYTimes has an article about section 508. Interestingly enough, this article appeared in the arts section because the angle was that sites produced by the feds are likely to use non-essential graphic images more conservatively in order to be more user friendly. Not that anyone thought this was possible, but the Web sites of the federal government are about to become less interesting. And from at least one perspective, that may be good. ... The goal of improved accessibility is beyond dispute. Yet as federal Webmasters re-examine what they put online to meet the requirements, they are likely to suppress their appetite for the attention-grabbing visuals known as eye candy and multimedia treats like animated graphics. ... [T]he government's 30 million pages may start to recall the Web sites of 1994, when text and graphics were nearly all that could be found online. An interesting position that some are taking is to view the demands of the accessibility requirements as an opportunity for software developers (non-feds) to work with the same goals in mind when creating multimedia applications. Accessible versions of Web sites are often drab views that remove interesting aspects such as animated information grahics. The idea is to be able to offer the same interesting views of information in those alternative formats, like motion graphics, to disabled viewers. Who can argue against wanting to make their information accessible to more of their audience without making look dull and drab? In adopting the accessibility standards, the government has become involved in a test case that has far-reaching implications for multimedia design. ... If the government can adjust to the standards, the thinking goes, it may pave the way for extending them to other areas of cyberspace. And the prospect of appealing to a mammoth customer like the federal government may prompt software developers to work harder to include accessibility features in their Web-building tools and perhaps develop creative ways to do it.