peripherally. The issue of accessibility is a clear opportunity for NSF to partner with scientists with disabilities and those who work on interface design and so lead by example.
In order for NSF S&E information to be used, it must be accessible to users. By nearly eliminating the hard-copy publication of the data in favor of electronic dissemination, mainly through the web, NSF is committed to the provision of web-based data in an accessible format, not only for trained sophisticated users, but also for users who are less confident of their ability to access data on the Internet. Importantly, the user population includes people with disabilities for whom, by law and right, special accommodations need to be made.
The panel benefited from a presentation by Judy Brewer, who directs the WAI at W3C. W3C hosts the WAI to develop standards, guidelines, and resources to make the web accessible for people with disabilities; ensure accessibility of W3C technologies (20-30 per year); and develop educational resources to support web accessibility.
Brewer stated that Web 2.0 adds new opportunities for persons with disabilities, and that data visualization is a key to effective communication. However, people with disabilities face a number of barriers to web accessibility, including missing alternative text for images, missing captions for audio, forms that “time out” before they can submit them, images that flash and may cause seizures, text that moves or refreshes before they can interact with it, and websites that do not work with assistive technologies that many people with disabilities rely on.
In response to a question, Brewer addressed the continued problem of making tabular information accessible, and she requested input on where the WAI should go in this area. She referred to a workshop held by the National Institute of Standards and Technology on complex tabular information that resulted in several recommendations.
Brewer argued for publishing existing S&E data in compliance with Section 508 requirements, while continuing R&D on accessibility techniques for new technologies, improved accessibility supports for cognitive disabilities, and more affordable assistive technologies, such as tablets. She said WAI would partner with agencies to ensure that dissemination tools are accessible.
Recommendation 4-4. The National Science Foundation should sponsor research and development on accessible data visualization tools and approaches and potential other means for browsing and exploring tabular data that can be offered via web, mobile, and tablet-based applications, or browser-based ones.