The commenting period for the proposed rule has ended. You can view the final summary.

§1. What’s Going on Here?

This is a summary of discussion on the “Websites: Accessibility standards?” post between September 29, 2011 and January 3, 2012. (On that date, the post was closed to further discussion.) This summary was written by the Regulation Room team based on all the comments people made. This version is a DRAFT. We need YOUR help to make sure that nothing is missing, wrong, or unclear.

Important dates:

January 3-8: Comments can be made here on the draft
January 9: Final Summary of Discussion is posted on Regulation Room and submitted to DOT as a formal comment in the official rulemaking record. (January 9 is the last day of the official commenting period.)

Things to keep in mind as you read through the draft summary and make comments:

The goal here is to give DOT the best possible picture of all the different views, concerns, and ideas that came out during the discussion. This is NOT the place to reargue your position or criticize a different one. Focus on whether anything is missing or unclear, not whether you agree or disagree.

Rulemaking is not a vote. DOT is not allowed to decide what to do based on majority rule. (Why? See Effective Commenting) Approximate numbers are provided in the summary to give DOTa sense of the frequency of views, concerns, and ideas.

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§2. Who participated?

This post received 26 comments from 14 users; moderators responded 15 times.

Eleven users described themselves as travelers. Of those eleven, six said they were relatives/friends of a traveler with a disability, one is a travel agency owner or staff, and one is a site designer or programmer/usability expert. One user described his/her-self as an accessibility consultant, one as a relative/friend of a traveler with a disability, one as a site designer or programmer and usability expert, and one as being disabled and wishing to assist others in being independent while traveling.

Eleven of the users self identified as having a disability – four with mobility, five with visibility, and two with hearing. Ten said they used assistive/adaptive technology, including: wheel chairs, canes, service animal, screen readers, text-to-speech software, braille display, iPhone voiceover, and a hearing aid.

Several comments made on this post discussed benefits and costs of the proposed regulations. Those comments are summarized at Websites: Benefits and Costs draft summary.

§3. General overview

Almost all commenters on this post supported DOT setting website accessibility standards. One of the dissenting commenters, who self identified as a relative/friend of a traveler with a disability, characterized the proposed regulation as “government intrusion” and expressed concern over the effects of the regulations on a weak economy. Another argued that accessibility could be provided as effectively and more cheaply by telephone and TTY. (These comments are included in the Websites: Benefits and Costs draft summary.) Commenters supporting the regulation argued for adopting both technical and performance standards, and suggested innovative ways to ensure compliance.

§4. WCAG 2.0 AA technical standards; possible alternatives; conforming alternate versions; mobile

Three commenters specifically endorse using the WCAG 2.0 AA standards. One (traveler with a visual disability) argues that such guidelines are “current and appropriate” given the “global community” that uses air travel websites.

However, another commenter (accessibility consultant) argues that “WCAG 2.0 AA is too ‘complicated’” and urges DOT to require instead “WCAG [2.0] A plus Contrast (3.2.2) and especially Focus indication (2.4.7) for keyboard users.” And another commenter (travel agency owner or staff) is concerned that the proposed standards are implemented by “very few commercial websites.” The commenter (accessibility consultant) responded by providing an article on the current state of accessibility among the top online retail sites, which can be found at

Another commenter (traveler who has both mobility and visual impairments) pointed out that some “people who are deaf or deaf/blind have English as a second language. A lot of these individuals may have American Sign Language as their primary language. Alternate formats of the way information is provided can at times help these individuals deal with making decisions and reservations in an English speaking world.”

Finally, one commenter (traveler with a visual disability who uses JAWS and iPhone voiceover) argues that DOT’s legal standard must keep pace with changes to web design trends: “Regardless of which standard is used, the standard should be linked to the current published version of the technical standards. Web design trends change faster than the federal regulatory process. To avoid this problem, the regulation should have an “automatic update” provision so that the legally enforceable technical standard changes to match the most current version of WCAG or Section 508 when updates to those standards are published by W3 or the Access Board. Perhaps a grace period of six months from publication would be sufficient to allow for compliance. If it is absolutely necessary to go through the notice and comment process in order to update the legally enforceable technical standards, then DOT should automatically initiate a parallel regulatory update that adopts the new version of the standard on the day they are published by either w3 or the Access Board.”

On conforming alternate versions, one commenter (person with both mobility and visual impairments), pointed out that pictures and pop-ups make websites more difficult to navigate for screen reading programs. S/he suggests that “websites should have a text-only version in addition to making the regular site accessible.” A second commenter (person with a visual disability) seems to be advocating this as well when s/he writes: “I think that regardless of the accessibility of a web site, there needs to be tools in place to allow a disabled user to access the information, either by clicking a link that takes him or her to a web site that will be accessible to either a screen reader, voice activation, or other modes of accessibility.”

Another commenter (traveler with a visual disability who uses JAWS and iPhone voiceover) disagreed with allowing any type of alternate version of websites. S/he wrote: “the final regulations should explicitly prohibit use of conforming alternate versions of the primary website. History has proven that separate but equal is never an effective approach to public access. As a regular user of assistive technology and several carrier websites, I have experienced situations where there were material gaps in the information and functionality on the text-only site compared with that on the carrier’s primary site.” This commenter went on to tell the story of what his/her experience using one airline’s current text-only alternate site: “I visited a carriers text-only site and noticed that the list of airports to choose from in a drop-down menu listed an airport that the carrier no longer serviced. The primary page was updated to display only the currently serviced airports but the users of the text-only page were unaware of the omitted airport. I regularly observe similar problems where the text-only pages lag behind updates made to the primary website. I now always attempt to use the primary version of a website first because the text-only version is not often updated in a timely manner or has broken links that go unfixed for long periods of time. I suspect that the problems with the text-only sites fall below the radar because of the small population of disabled users multiplied by the unwillingness of disabled persons to spend time voicing a complaint once they have already spent a large amount of time working with an inaccessible website interface. (In my experience, I once opted to patronize a different carrier instead of wasting further time filing a complaint against the offending carrier’s text-only website). Even considering the already relatively small size of the disability community, many members of that community likely use the primary site which detracts from the number of users who are testing and providing feedback on the text-only site. Further, the carrier’s investment of resources in establishing a under-used and under-maintained text-only version detracts from making the primary website fully accessible and fully integrated.” S/he also pointed out that most carriers already make a “good percentage of their primary pages accessible. It wouldn’t take much more work for carriers to ensure that the remaining portions that are not accessible come into compliance with the technical standards.”

On mobile sites, a commenter (traveler with a mobility disability) suggests: “DOT should consider requiring airline carriers to interface all messaging information (apps, instant messaging, and a like) with personal mobility devices. In this regard persons with hard of hearing, blindness and other ailments can be kept informed equally as well as those without disabilities.”

Another commenter (traveler with a visual disability who uses JAWS and iPhone voiceover) argues that the definition of “website” in the rule should cover “all web-based forms of electronic information technology and alternative versions of the information delivered on a website,” specifically mobile versions of sites and mobile apps. S/he points out that many airlines are using mobile apps on the iPhone, Google Android, or other mobile operating systems as alternatives or supplements to traditional websites. Therefore, people with disabilities should have access to these new forms of electronic information as well. This commenter also said that s/he accesses the mobile apps for his/her favorite venders as often as the traditional websites.

§5. Performance as well as technical standards

Three commenters specifically addressed this issue and advocated adopting performance as well as technical standards.

One (usability expert) pointed out that “design standards set minimum requirements, but only actual usability standards can make sure the sites actually work.” S/he noted that the National Institute of Standards and Technology is working on setting performance standards for voting machines and suggested that this would be a possible path for DOT to follow. “Another way to set a performance standard is through actual performance. Not expert review, but a real usability test. The passing metrics could take into account variations in expertise of users, setting the bar at a reasonable place.” Overall, “[t]he challenge is creating an appropriate test that is neither too difficult or expensive.” S/he strongly urged that “DOT needs to work not only with the disability community, but also with usability experts.”

A second commenter (traveler with a visual disability) also supported adopting performance standards as well as technical standards, arguing that “[b]eing able to complete transactions with not much more time required is ultimately what matters.” To DOT’s question “To what types and versions of assistive technologies should it apply?” this commenter responded: “The types and versions of assistive technologies should be those used commonly by blind consumers (in the case of this section); these are readily identifiable as those exhibiting at conventions of these blind consumers.” Another (traveler with both mobility and visual impairments) argued that sites “should be made compatible to Dragon Dictate and other programs that assist individuals with visual impairments and blindness in reading text.”

§6. Verifying compliance

One commenter (traveler with a hearing impairment and as a friend or relative of a traveler with a disability) warned: “My experience with the self-monitoring is that corners are cut, or ignored all together. You need to have compliance checked by an outside source or it will simply fall by the wayside.” When asked by the moderator for specific ideas, s/he responded: “Provide a customer survey either prominently on the website or via pop-up to ask users their opinion, I would ask their permission to send them a survey (dependent on disability), I would randomly check the site myself to ensure compliance. … I might also work with colleges/universities to ask students with and without disabilities to report on the site (when worked out with professors they might get some sort of school credit).”

Another (usability expert) agreed that an onsite “feedback mechanism would be ideal. It would be better to have a way for consumers to report problems so they are fixed than for everything to turn into a lawsuit.”

A third (traveler with a mobility disability) suggested: “Carriers should be required to incorporate disability teams (from the community and their staff) to by annually [biannually?] assess the entire travel ribbon for accessibility barriers. These reports should be sent to DOT to help deconstruct the multiple enforcement agency responsibilities.” This commenter also suggested that “DOT should rely on the [U.S.] access board airport technical guideline sheet.”

§6. New problem

One commenter (traveler with a mobility impairment) identified a significant problem for travelers with disabilities: “Many airline websites will not allow online check, nor through their kiosks, if your reservation is ‘flagged’ as having special needs (such as traveling with your own wheelchair or a service animal), therefore requiring check-in at the counter, even if all they do is issue a boarding pass. While not specific to the format and accessibility for those with communication impairments, it does have an impact on all travelers with a disability who are able to use online check-in or at a kiosk, who do not need additional assistance getting to the gate.”

Peoples' Suggestions

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January 9, 2012 1:10 am

TTS is NOT equally effecitve for blind persons with High Functioning Autism, as it does not provide editing capabilities, and involves talking to a live person, which can be intimidating.

It is also more costly in the long term because it requires paid workers or risks the problems with broken voice mail systems.

Additionally it does not have the functionality of a web site, and does not ensure that prices available on the web sites are available by this means. This produces a divide based on disability that is unacceptable.

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    January 9, 2012 7:46 am

    Hi ruediix, at this point in the process, the focus is on making sure the summary includes everything that was raised in the comments on the different posts. This is not the time to raise new points or re-hash old arguments. If you think we missed something that you or someone else mentioned in the comments before these draft summaries were posted, let us know! If you wish to comment on the substance of the proposed rule, you can still do that by the end of the day today at

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January 9, 2012 1:19 am has some automated tests for accessability handling of web pages. It would be very useful to mandate the passage of these tests.

Note, most of the current web sites fail the tests for standards compliance, thus inevitably failing these tests as well.

Industry may be resistant to this change without full explanation of how it opens new customers to their service, and how that is a major advantage to them and will pay back many fold the expense of web-developer time.

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