Internet

Macromedia to aid the disabled online

The software developer plans to launch a new product that helps designers and developers create Web content accessible to everyone--particularly those with disabilities.

Macromedia on Monday plans to launch a new product that helps designers and developers create Web content accessible to everyone--particularly those with disabilities.

The San Francisco-based software developer said it will offer an Accessibility and E-Learning Solutions Kit that includes templates, an online course on accessibility, and other tools and resources.

The launch comes as U.S. government departments and agencies work to conform to Section 508, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act that requires them to use technology that accommodates the needs of disabled workers. In addition, Web sites created by federal agencies must be accessible to the disabled. The amendment became law in June.

Standards groups also have been working to encourage Web accessibility. In September, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a major standards body, issued draft guidelines for designing browsers, multimedia players and other Web-based user interfaces.

Macromedia, however, says one of the biggest hurdles in conforming to these standards and requirements lies in the language.

"We have these accessibility standards, but because designers can't understand them, we're not seeing any movement," said Bob Regan, product manager for accessibility at Macromedia. "With something like this tool, we're actually able to put these accessibility standards in nontechnical terms."

To help federal sites meet accessibility requirements, Macromedia has prepared several tools. One, similar to a spell-checker, enables developers to check each page or an entire Web site to ensure that it is accessible. The tool, for instance, would point out color tones in a Web site that colorblind people may not be able to read.

In addition, Macromedia links to a tool that lets Web site developers implement captioning. The kit also includes a rich-media template to help developers take advantage of Flash content while still allowing everyone to use the site.

Advocates for the disabled, who have been aggressively pushing companies to support technology such as electronic Braille readers, say they are encouraged by Macromedia's efforts.

"Generally, the disability community has been trying to access (Web content using) existing technology," said Bill Freeman, president of the American Disability Association. "We hope that the work that Macromedia has done will (help) people with disabilities in accessing the existing content on the Web."

Macromedia's kit, which is available as a two-CD set, is available to those registering with its products, including Dreamweaver 4, Dreamweaver UltraDev 4 and Macromedia Flash 5.