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Testimony before the US Department of Justice

The following is the testimony presented to the US Department of Justice in response to its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on the topic of applying the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to private-company web sites.

Written Testimony

Written response to Department of Justice ANPRM (PDF) prepared by Marco Maertens and submitted on January 23, 2011.

In-Person Testimony

Washington, DC, December 16, 2010.

This testimony was delivered on behalf of Accessibility Associates by Marco Maertens.

The transcript is provided courtesy of the US Department of Justice in a “rough draft format”.

Good morning. My name is Marco Maertens. I’m here from Accessibility Associates, a provider of Web accessibility, consulting and training services.

I’d like to start by thanking the Department of Justice for the opportunity to speak here today. Accessibility Associates will be providing detailed answers to the questions listed in the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in regards to applying the Americans with Disabilities Act to Web information.

I’ve been working in Web accessibility for eleven years now. I would like to take my time here today to address question number 10 on whether there should be a safe harbor for existing material on the web, and should that be exempted from a requirement to make that material accessible.

Now, as a provider of Web accessibility services, I’m always happy when a company comes to me and wants my help to make their existing material accessible to effectively retrofit their site.

However, on this issue, my answer is that, yes, there should be a safe harbor provision exempting current content from being made accessible. Let me explain why.

I’d like to talk about some experiences that I've had just over the last year in working with private companies who have been making their websites accessible.

Let me start with saying that there are two broad approaches to this. One is, of course, when a new material is created, you can plan for Web accessibility from the very beginning. So, when a new website or Web material is put up, accessibility is thought out immediately and is part of the plan of creating it.

The other of course is retrofitting the existing websites where material may be partially accessible or not accessible at all.

Let me start with the first one, starting material from the very beginning. In the past year, I've worked on several projects, including one where, including several actually, where we were building websites from scratch, with a requirement for accessibility.

In these projects, the extra cost of providing accessibility to these websites came into the range of 3 to 6 percent. These are the extra costs in development. There is a lot more that goes into building a website. But, just in terms of the development, we had, we saw 3 percent, 3 to 6 percent, which includes my time as an accessibility consultant, and the extra efforts that was required on the part of the Web developers, the programmers to make the changes that I recommended.

Let me take a look at the other side, in terms of retrofitting existing sites. Again, just earlier this year, I was working on a project for a large Fortune 500 company, a large e-commerce site that had tens of thousands of pages on their site.

I conducted an assessment based on a sample of 650 representative pages. That effort took 300 person hours for the whole team to complete and to make recommended fixes. Three hundred person hours is two person months of work. This found errors in the representative pages and proposed recommended fixes. In those 300 person hours, the work of actually remediating the site was not included.

When the information was provided to the client, and they realized how much work they would have to do to put their site into compliance to make it accessible, they were quite honestly taken aback. Almost six months later, even the most egregious violations that were brought to their attention have not yet been implemented on the site.

So, retrofitting existing material is costly, time-consuming, and burdensome.  And to make that a requirement I feel would undermine the efforts to implement accessibility, to get to the ultimate goal of making Web accessibility the norm on the web. Accessibility for new material is low cost and very feasible. This brings us to the ultimate goal of inclusion for persons with disabilities in the Web just like we do in the physical space.

Thank you for your time. I appreciate the opportunity to speak here.