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  1. Accessibility @ FDA

FDA Site Accessibility Features

Web Site Accessibility Features

It is the policy of the agency that the following accessibility features are to be incorporated into the content of the web site where appropriate:

  1. An Alternative text description is to be provided for every image or graphic. Graphic images used for layout or decorative purposes will be set to null.
  2. Heading and list structures are to be used for appropriate elements instead of visually enhancing ordinary text to make it simulate such structures.
  3. Relative font sizing definitions are to be used so that the user may control the size within their browser or assistive technology.
  4. Navigation will be standardized on all web pages (except for documents in PDF and other non-web formats) and provide a means of skipping repetitive navigation elements.
  5. Style sheets will be used for the visual appearance and layout of content rather than hard coded elements so that the user may control the appearance of content as appropriate for their browser or assistive technology.
  6. Hyperlink text: will provide meaningful information about the target when linking to another page.
  7. Accessible forms: all forms on the site will contain appropriate text labels and descriptions as appropriate control elements for the user browser or assistive technology.
  8. Captioned video: all video will contain closed or open captions describing the content.
  9. Scripted Elements: will provide a non-scripted alternative.
  10. Posted Documents reviewed for compliance: all non-web documents (PDF, MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) will be reviewed and made accessible prior to publishing.

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Site Organization by Subject

The FDA web site has been organized with an overall subject orientation rather than organizational structure. The subject oriented structure assists the user to more easily navigate to content without needing to know the organization of the agency; i.e., in order to find “what” the user does not need to know which office, “who”, published it. The site content is organized topically so that users can more easily find the information they were looking for.

The site is published and managed via an automated web content management system (WCMS) which provides:

  1. Uniform page layout templates for consistent style and structure and build-in accessibility within the basic page structure.
  2. An information hierarchy using different types of pages:
    1. Groups of Topic pages clustered around Food, Drugs, Medical Devices, Vaccines, Veterinary, Cosmetics, Tobacco, etc. as linked from the FDA Home page.
    2. Topic Landing pages (e.g. http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/default.htm) which provide the navigation links to sections and current highlighted information.
    3. Section (e.g. Drugs News & Events example) and subsection (e.g. What's New (Drugs) example)  pages providing navigation to content
    4. Content pages (e.g. Meetings, Conferences, & Workshops (Drugs) example) which provide the content information sought by the user.
  3. Search: An analysis of the site traffic shows that a majority of visitors are using search engines to locate content. Site content pages are provided with important optimization elements used by external search engines. In addition the agency maintains its own the site search engine appliance. Site wide searching provides:
  4. Contextual searching of the site content pages
  5. Keyword synonyms for important and current newsworthy items
  6. Application search within the site databases and applications; e.g. Medwatch, Recalls, etc.

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Page Features

While the Web Content Management System provides a standard page structure, that structure varies between different types of pages on the site. The FDA site contains a complicated information structure reflecting the broad context of its functions, activities and audiences. Some pages provide navigation to content, some provide content, and some are a mixture of navigation and content.

  1. All web pages have at a minimum the following features:
    1. Header with an embedded skip over to the page content and other page information clusters (see “Page Quicklinks” below.)
    2. Site global navigation links
    3. Page heading
    4. Page tools (social networking sharing, Email, Print, Font sizing)
    5. Bread crumb trail
    6. Contextual navigation
    7. Page footer with the date it was last updated, links to needed 3rd party browser plug-ins, site global service and policy links, global topic links
    8. Search; a site search box is part of each page masthead, and section specific contextual search is provided on the section landing pages.
  2. The Topic pages (Food, Drugs, Medical Devices, etc.) which are primarily navigation have one or more of the following clusters of broad scoped links:
  3. Featured Topics
  4. Resources for you
  5. News and Announcements
  6. Industry Assistance
  7. Program Areas
  8. Spotlight
  9. Recalls & Alerts
  10. Tools & Resources
  11. Contact Us
  12. Section and subsection pages are primarily navigation and provide links to content in more focused clusters
    1. Section links
    2. Resources for you
    3. Popular items
    4. Related information
    5. Contact us
    6. Content page clusters
    7. Page header
    8. Section/Topic menu
    9. Main content area
  13. Content Pages contain the targeted information but still have the minimum page features including the essential site and section navigation.

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Content Page Structure

The term “end content pages” refer to web pages on the FDA web site that are the targets of links on “landing pages” such as the FDA Home page and major subject/topic pages. Such pages contain the narrative, descriptions, or media sought by the end user.  In addition to the content, these pages contain navigation and contextually related links to allow the user to quickly jump to related content or to jump to a major section landing page.   In contrast, “landing pages” are pages which contain mostly navigation links and features to enable the user to locate the content information being sought.

Each content page has a section of links and graphics known as the “page masthead” at the beginning of the page. The page masthead provides links to all of the major sections of the site. In addition to the masthead the content page also has a block of related links known as the “Section Content Menu”. This menu is provided visually in the left margin with links to pages in the same section which are related to the current page. The main content follows this menu. At the end of the main page content, and visually at the bottom of the page, there is a “Common links” (footer) section which provides links which are common to all pages on the site. The content pages provide a uniform and consistent layout because they are produced by the automated content management system. The “Quicklinks” structure described here is intended to allow users with screen readers equivalent access to avail themselves of these consistent navigation features so that they might choose to move to related content or jump to alternative sections of the site.

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Web Page Elements

To deploy the Quicklinks navigation feature the following is required:

  • CSS entries for the visual features
  • HTML jump table with links to each of the major page sections
  • Anchor points within each of the major page sections to serve as targets for the jump table.
  • Access key attributes attached to each section.
  • Tabindex attributes attached to each section.
  • Additional headings with meaningful descriptions of the target.

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Quicklinks Feature

The skip over repetitive navigation requirement for 508 compliance is a feature that is not only useful for screen readers but helpful to users with handheld devices with screen size or graphic limitations. However, providing a skip over the page masthead and other navigation features impairs the convenience provided by these features. To address this impairment the FDA web staff has added a small page top menu structure and other features to make these site and page navigation features available. This structure is simply known as “Quicklinks”.

This structure is a combination of style sheets, jump tables, headings, anchors, tab index and access key attributes to provide a consistent layout to the content pages of the FDA web site for users with screen readers or handheld devices. The features are designed to be visible when used with Tab key navigation of the page so that even sighted users may use them. The improvements specified here are intended to improve site navigation beyond a simple skip over of the page top (and right or left) navigation features to allow users with screen readers equivalent access to the same convenient navigation features available to sighted users.

The Quicklinks navigation provides jumps to the following sections on the FDA Content pages:

  • Main content – because users with screen readers already expect this jump, so it is the first jump on the page.
  • FDA site search box – to entry box for Google Search Appliance
  • FDA Top Menu – jump to the list of the main topic landing pages on the FDA site and other links in the masthead section such as the A to Z index.
  • Section Topics Menu – jump to the automatically generated menu of related pages within the same section as this current page.
  • Common links – jump to the section of links commonly known by sighted users as the “Footer”.

These parallel the skips provided by the Tabindex and Accesskey features.  We recognize that many of the users who might benefit from the enhancement may not be aware that the features exist. Unfortunately that is a trade-off for keeping the repetitive link burden to a minimum. Thus we are describing these features in this section of the site with the hope that they will become better known and used.

Skip over Repetitive Navigation

This feature provides a link to the main page content, skipping over the repetitive page top navigation, and provides additional skips to important clusters of information on the page in addition to the content. We call these the “Page Quicklinks” and they parallel the skips provided by the Tabindex and Accesskey features. The skips are as follows:

  1. Skip to main page content
  2. Skip to FDA Search box
  3. Skip to FDA Topics Menu
  4. Skip to Section Content Menu
  5. Skip to Common Links (page footer)

Tabindex Features

The Tabindex navigation provides jumps in a predefined order to defined locations in the page using the Tab key. The Tab key is a feature that can be used to navigate through a web page without the use of a pointing device such as a mouse. Each time the tab key is pressed, the focus on the page moves to the next link in the sequence it is found on the page. Web page designers can override this sequential order. This allows them to set a logical order of links on the page. Using the Tab key to navigate on the FDA pages takes the reader to the following locations on the page:

  1. Skip to Quick Links to jump to main page content
  2. Skip to FDA Search box
  3. Skip to FDA Topics Menu
  4. Skip to Section Content Menu
  5. Skip to Common Links (page footer)

As the Tab key is selected, the style sheet generates a visual line of white text against a blue background at the top of the page which displays the identity of the jump. With each repeated press of the tab key, the jump advances to the next tabindex. A jump can be selected in IE by entering return.

Accesskey Features

Accesskey is a feature that enables a direct jump to a page feature. A standard set of access keys has been established for the FDA web site. As far as we are aware, these selections do not conflict with any other predefined access key functions. For the Internet Explorer one uses the accesskey feature by pressing the ALT key and then one of the following numeric keys at the same time:

  • 1 FDA Topics menu
  • 2 Skip to Quick links for main page content
  • 4 Site Search box

As the Accesskey is selected, the browser jumps to the preselected the target. The W3C explains that “The invocation of access keys depends on the underlying system. For instance, on machines running MS Windows, one generally has to press the "alt" key in addition to the access key. On Apple systems, using the Safari browser with OSX, one generally has to press the "cmd" key in addition to the access key.” (Reference: http://www.w3.org/TR/html401/interact/forms.html#access-keys).

Because Accesskeys are not standardized the Jumps take the user to a selection in the page menus rather than jumping directly to the target. This gives the user a moment to choose whether to go on to select the link or not.

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