Keeping the Promise of Web 2.0

Monday - 11/17/2008, 7:18am EST

By Max Cacas
FederalNewsRadio

In a number of federal agencies, the promise of Web 2.0 is already being realized. Wikis are fostering collaboration in the Pentagon and the Intelligence Community. Citizens are finding new means of getting information, and providing feedback. And yet, many of the features of Web 2.0 are not yet available to many people whose interests are protected by federal regulation.

"Section 508" is the portion of the 1998 Rehabilitation Act, approved by Congress, which mandates that all Federal websites, and other information technology resources, be made readily available to those with disabilities. The solutions for existing websites built around known standards as HTML 3.0, cascading style sheets, and java script include braille readers that provide on-the fly translation of web pages and special text to speech translators. But now comes the next generation of resources known as Web 2.0.

It's sexy, it's cool, it's different, but using Web 2.0 absolutely has to be connected to your agency's mission.

As someone who lives daily with hearing loss, Amanda Sweden, the Section 508 coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency, knows how important it is for an agency's internet based resources to be accessible by those with a disability. She told the recent GSA IDEAS 2008 conference that she is concerned that web managers, for now, don't have the tools needed to insure that the new Web 2.0 resources which stress collaboration, comply with Section 508

If we provide a wiki environment or a blog where the public can interact, then where does our responsibility end? Section 508 doesn't say where our responsibility ends. What happens when we're collaborating with a State agency, which is not covered by Section 508, where does our responsibility end?

The EPA has drafted a whitepaper outlining steps it is taking to insure its web resources are Section 508 compliant. Meanwhile, the discussion that ensued about Web 2.0 and Section 508 at the IDEAS conference revealed many questions, but very few answers.

To put it all in perspective, we spoke to EPA Program Analyst Kol Peterson, another panelist at the conference, who offered his own assessment.

A lot of these tools are tools that are emerging right now - videosharing, podcasting, widgets, web conferencing, mashups, rss... I'm imagining that two years from now, there will be five times as many useful tools.

Peterson told FederalNewsRadio that when it comes to videos, for example, the EPA whitepaper notes that there's software under development that allows for captioning, something dictated by Section 508.

He also believes that making Web 2.0 applications conform to Section 508 offers a for-profit-opportunity for some company that wants to create applications to help government websites become compliant with the law.

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On the Web:
GSA - Section 508
Collaboration Project: http://www.collaborationproject.org/

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