ColdFusion and Section 508
Will your website be government ok for disabled access?
is a new Federal law known as “Section 508.” That requires disabled
accessibility on government websites. We will show you what you have to do to
be compliant, show how ColdFusion can help (and hinder) and explain why 508 is
not a bad thing after all.
many programmers for the Federal Government already know, there are new
standards for Web page accessibility. Currently these standards are mandatory
for all Federally sponsored sites, but who knows when the law might be extended
to all sites, as ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was. We suggest you
check out disabled accessible and get the benefits of better web design now.
Dealing with accessibility gets you thinking “out of the box.” Can your page
function without a mouse? Plus you will get benefits for targeting your site to
cell phone browsers too, as similar issues apply.
Section 508 basics
508 ensures that the disabled can get access to the same public information as
to others. On the last census there were 54 million Americans with some
disability, including 10 million blind and visually impaired. People with disabilities use tools such as
screen and Braille readers. Think of their tools as “alternative browsers.” Just like the issues between IE and
Netscape, other browsers need consideration when you code.
508 is hot - both Macromedia and Microsoft
have web pages listing their 508 compliance initiatives, and Macromedia has
released an extension to Dreamweaver with accessibility tools. Designing for
maximum access to web content is spreading to education, local governments, and
you cannot see and you have a friend read you the HTML source for a page over
the phone so you can understand the site. That is what viewing a site with a
screen reader is like. Imagine minutes of hearing header HTML code for
navigation – with cryptic image file names and no English description. Imagine
complex table layouts with no clue as to what each number means. Imagine
applets that you don’t know any thing about because there is no HTML source for
to the world of the blind web user. Section 508 suggests how you can make their
life easier when reading your webpages.
of the requirements are listed in Table 1 (For a full review, visit http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/guide/1194.22.htm)
solutions to help you comply, and also has some problems for you to overcome.
TABLE 1 some 508 rules
A) A text equivalent must be supplied for every image.
images except shims need an ALT tag describing the picture.
Alternatives for multimedia presentations must be
with the presentation.
a link to a text version, synchronizing captions with audio.
All information conveyed with color (e.g., red for a negative number) must be
provided in an alternative form. (Color blindness).
web pages so that all information conveyed with color is also available
without color, for example use a minus sign for negative numbers.
Documents must be readable without an associated style sheet.
Style sheet removed, content must still be readable. Using external style
sheets is safest.
Redundant text links must be provided for each active region of a server-side
redundant links because readers can't see URLs on server-side image maps.
Client-side image maps should be provided instead of server-side image maps.
is better than server, as readers can see the URLs before clicking. Use the
ALT tag on the areas.
H) Data tables must associated row and column headers with the data contained
LISTING 2 and visit
Give frames readable names
frames with plain English name when used, but it's best to avoid their use.
Avoid causing screen flicker.
loop your animation or use the <BLINK> tag.
If there's no way to comply with 508 standards, provide a text-only page, and
update it whenever the primary page changes.
text-only duplicate pages for any content that can’t be fixed. This is easy
if the text is in a database and you use ColdFusion.
Any information provided by scripting languages must also be supplied in text
readable with assistive technology.
the <NOSCRIPT> tag just after a closing </SCRIPT> to provide a
text description of the action.
If an applet, plug-in, or other application must be present on the client,
provide a link to a compliant plug-in or applet. See Technical
Standards 1194.21(a) through (l) for
compliance when using plug-ins or applets.
Don’t use applets and plug-ins that
are not complainant Check plug-ins web sites for accessibility
information. The new PDF and Flash
players will be complient.
Online forms must allow assistive technology to access elements required for
completion and submission.
hotkey access to form elements and make a TABINDEX order for the form fields.
Make form field name and required fields indicators text readable.
Users must be able to skip repetitive navigation links.
a “jump to content” link just after the <BODY> tag that jumps to an
anchor placed at the beginning of the page’s content.
When a timed response is required, the user must be alerted and given enough
time to indicate that more time is required.
your own session-timeout code to allow longer timeout than the CF admin default
for disabled users.
For the complete text of the
regulations, visit www.access-board.gov/sec508/guide/1194.22.htm.
Help from ColdFusion
Where can CF assist you?
Let’s look at an example, using paragraph a: “A text equivalent for every
non-text element shall be provided … via alt.”
If you are displaying a
record with an associated image (perhaps the description of a house and photo).
List the image path and image description as fields in the record, and then
output the image as part of the dynamic data (listing 1).
SELECT price, address, image_path,
A common technique deployed by ColdFusion Developers is
building dynamic tables from recordsets. Good news! You can build dynamic
tables that are section 508 compliant and populated with records from a CFQUERY.
Imagine you wish to query a data source containing information about your CD
collection, with the records displayed in a table listing artist and CD title.
<table summary="This table lists the artists and
titles of my music collection" border="1" >
A screen reader would speak the following: “CD Collection.
This table lists the artists and titles of my music collection. Artist Title…”
and then would speak the contents of each cell.
watch out for
ColdFusion is an excellent tool in creating compliant web
pages. However, there are some things for you to consider. CFFORM and other
<NOSCRIPT> tag. You will need to browse your pages and look at the source
code produced to determine placement of the <NOSCRIPT> tag. (Macromedia
is aware of this issue and will be addressing it in the future). Another consideration is the use of
CFINCLUDE. If the included template is used solely as an inserted page
component, strip the file of all <HTML> <HEAD> and <TITLE>
opening and closing tags. Otherwise, pages may confuse screen readers with
extra opening <HTML> and closing </HTML> tags.
Other problem tags that use java applets include
To be compliant you will need to provide the data in these
tags in a separate format such as HTML tables or lists.
Do you have member’s only login sections to you site? Then
you may have timeout issues. Session variables by default only last 20 minutes.
That may not be long enough for disabled users to view the material. What I
suggest you do is code the time out in your code and increase the session
timeout to an hour or more. Then you can let individual user increase the
timeout for them.
effects of compliance
By adapting coding practices required by the guidelines for
accessibility, you will be in a “win-win” situation. First, your visitors that
are disabled are winners because they will be able to access your site! Second,
your code will be streamlined and clean.
The guidelines suggested by the access board and W3 for proper HTML 4
implementation recommend using style sheets for formatting. While the 508
regulations require your pages to be able to convey content without an associated
style sheet, their use is superior to frames and layout tables for placement of
In this article we have introduced you to accessibility
issues and new requirements for Federal web design section 508. Cold Fusion’s
flexibility makes it your ally for compliance. An accessible website is a well
http://www.cast.org/bobby popular Bobby checker for examining pages
http://www.section508.gov/ Federal Section 508 – a ColdFusion site!
http://www.hj.com Henter Joyce
makers of the JAWS screen reader
http://www.hisoftware.com HiSoftware producers of verification tools
http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-TECHS W3 accessibility
DIBOC organization with some excellent examples
http://www.endoradigital.com/fix/ Lynx text based browser
http://www.econointl.com/sw/ Simply Web 2000 screen reader
http://www.crunchy.com/tools/index.html 508 accessibility
valuator and CF Studio tool
http://www.usablenet.com/lift_dw/lift_dw.html Lift 508/W3C add
on for Macromedia Dreamweaver, including global ALT tag editor.
Brundage is a Government consultant, ColdFusion programmer, MDCFUG speaker and
author. You can reach Jon at [email protected].
Smith is president of TeraTech http://www.teratech.com/ , a 12-year-old
Rockville, Maryland based consulting company that specializes in ColdFusion, Database
and Visual Basic development. Michael
runs the MDCFUG and recently organized the two-day, Washington, DC-based CF2001
conference that attracted more than 150 participants. You can reach Michael at [email protected]