After reading GCN's article 'GSA takes a fast, free approach to Web dialogue tool' I decided to take a look at the tool in question, IdeaScale, to see what the buzz was all about. The article explains that GSA joins several Federal departments/agencies already using IdeaScale including the White House, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Departments of Labor & Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A link to the FCC's IdeaScale site representing broadband.gov public feedback site was provided and my curiosity got the best of me...
Now I don't proclaim to be a user-experience or accessibility expert, but it was quickly apparent to me that the site lacked appropriate ALT attributes in a variety of places throughout the site. I quickly visited section508.gov to ensure my understanding of Section 508 was correct:
§ 1194.22 Web-based intranet and internet information and applications.
(a) A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided (e.g., via "alt", "longdesc", or in element content) – section508.gov
Once I confirmed my understanding of the Section 508 omissions on the FCC’s IdeaScale site I began to wonder what else, from an accessibility standpoint, might be missing? I used a free, third-party application to evaluate broadband.ideascale.com (FCC's IdeaScale site for Broadband.gov Beta) and it unearthed a variety of Secion 508 "violations" that I will leave to the accessibility experts. Needless to say there were quite a few "violations" noted.
So what does all this mean in the grand scheme of things? My gut feeling is that as Federal departments and agencies rush to meet the mandates as outlined in the Open Government Directive, Section 508 compliance may have fallen through the cracks. The question now becomes will these departments and agencies that are leveraging IdeaScale (or plan to do so in the near future) bring their implementations up to “code” in terms of Section 508 compliance?
I am all for the Open Government Directive and all IdeaScale has to offer (heck, they have made it free for government agencies to leverage) but should government agencies leverage such a quick and easy tool without addressing the Section 508 shortcomings?
An interesting dilemma…what are your thoughts?