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Kennedy hopes accessible site leads way

Sen. Edward Kennedy's office unveils a revamped Web site, one of the first congressional sites to fully comply with federal laws requiring accessibility for disabled users.

Sen. Edward Kennedy's office unveiled a revamped Web site Tuesday, one of the first congressional sites to fully comply with federal laws requiring accessibility for disabled users.

Ngozi Pole, office

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manager for the long-serving Massachusetts Democrat, said the office redesigns the Web site every few years, and the priorities this time were allowing nontechnical office workers to easily contribute to the site, and achieving full accessibility compliance.

Section 508 of the federal Rehabilitation Act requires that all government Web sites be fully accessible to users with physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities. Accessibility poses a number of challenges, such as making sure all relevant page content can be scanned by "screen readers," audio programs that read computer text out loud for blind users.

Sec. 508 went into effect last year, but a recent study by consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that only 13.5 percent of federal sites were in compliance.

Pole said that because Kennedy was an early backer of accessibility laws, it was important that his site set an example.

"The government sites in general were supposed to be 508 ready last year, and the legislative branch as a whole has not been really effective at that," Pole said. "The culture of this place tends to be one person does something, and it's a noble cause, and everybody else starts to say, 'Are we doing this?' We hope we can be a catalyst in that regard."

The Kennedy site was designed with Adobe Systems' GoLive Web authoring tool, a competitor to Macromedia's Dreamweaver, both of which include extensive tools for testing accessibility compliance.

GoLive also allowed the site to be built so that nontechnical office workers could post announcements and other text without tampering with the site's overall design, site designer Chris Casey said. That means news gets posted much quicker than the old system, where everything had to be passed through a Webmaster.

"We're taking this to another level of giving people the actual template to publish something," Casey said. "It turns the site into more of a real-time tool for communicating with constituents."