Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mexican Manifesto

The Mexican Manifesto was an interesting panel, though sparsely attended by SXSW standards. Too bad for those who didn't attend, since they served shots of tequila at the end of the panel. No kidding.
The Usability and Accessibility for the Web International Seminar, organized by the State Government of Nuevo Le-n and the Universidad de Monterrey, was held in July 26 2007. At the conclusion of the two-day conference, the organizers issued the first Manifesto on Usability and Accessibility for Mexican Government Websites. With input from conference participants and experts of UA web 2007, the Manifesto was signed by 23 Mexican states and 3 municipalities. The Manifesto states that , 'It is the duty of the creators and administrators of new technologies to improve people's quality of life. As administrators, our objective is to create and maintain websites that are both useful and easy to use for the widest possible audience: usable and accessible websites. We believe that government, academia and the private sector should work together to achieve this objective.' In this session we will look at the 10 point commitment contained within the Manifesto, meet the people who led the development of the document and learn more about the barriers and successes of implementing the Manifesto.
Panelists: Sharron Rush (Exec Director, Knowbility.org, Marta Sylvia del Rio (Dir of Graduate Studies in Design and Engineering, Universidad de Monterrey and Javier Hernandez (Director of Projects for Internet, Gobierno del Estado de Nuevo Leon, a Mexican government portal for the State of Nuevo Leon)

I've met Sharron Rush before, when Knowbility had only been around for a short time and I was hoping they could hire me. (The money wasn't there at the time unfortunately, but it was great to get to talk to her.) It's gratifying to see how much they've been able to accomplish. I highly recommend taking their accessibility courses from Access U.

We were given headsets for this panel. Because of the bilingual nature of the panel, there would be live translation of the panelists. Unfortunately the headsets didn't work out, so the translator used a microphone at the front of the room. It worked out just fine.

Last July, Sharron was invited to the University of Mexico, Monterrey to participate in an initiative called Usability and Accessibility for the Web. She felt that it was such a unique and exciting endeavor that they should present about it at SXSW.

Unlike the U.S. and Section 508 of the American with Disabilities Act, there is no legislation on accessibility in Mexico. Still, the state government of Nuevo Leon was very concerned about the issue, so they approached a citizen watchdog council in an attempt to improve the quality of information and access to government business through the portal. The resulting group was made up of specialists, non-specialists, technologists, government representatives, etc.

Through their efforts, a lot of things were put in place. First, a statement of ten points to meet with regards to usability and accessibility was drafted and then shared with other state governments, encouraging them to commit to the effort.

The ten points:
1. To ensure the democratic access to government information and services by everyone, including users with disabilities, by embracing W3C recommendations
2. To facilitate the creation, archival and management of information with systems that are accessible
3. To ensure that information and services are easy to find, discover and use, following best practices in web design and development
4. To ensure the transparency of public information, and specifically information on the use of public resources
5. To facilitate and promote citizen participation in governmental decisions, as well as collaboration between governments
6. To promote the convergence of systems in the national, state and local levels so that users can navigate between them without barriers
7. To take full advantage of information technologies to better serve citizens
8. To make content easy for everyone to understand by following Lenguaje Ciudadano (plain language) recommendations.
9. To promote the ideals and concepts expressed in this manifesto
10. To continuously improve the methodologies referred to in this document

Twenty-three of thirty-two state governments have signed on so far. It was published in the newspapers so all could see the commitment. (Check out the original ad in Spanish in this downloadable PDF.) That's a pretty incredible level of commitment. But they didn't want to project to be just a lot of good intentions; they wanted to follow through. Since the governments that signed on also turn over through elections, they formed a non-profit organization to see the mission through - the Usability and Accessibility Web (UAWeb).

In order to achieve the goals of increased web usability and accessibility, the people making the web sites needed training in these areas. UAWeb provides that training, and it's not limited to just the government agencies that were initially concerned with improvement. Corporations are also getting involved, and programs in these areas have been incorporated into undergraduate and graduate programs that deal with technology. Other universities from other countries have approached them about doing similar things.

Accessibility raining is an extremely important part of achieving the goal of an accessible web. Hernandez pointed out that, on the Nuevo Leon portal site, over 90 agencies must be coordinated, in order to update the site. There are close to 250 people who have access to constantly update information in the portal. An accessibility problem might be fixed at one point, only to be reintroduced when information is updated. Designers and developers must all be trained in order to avoid this sort of thing. (Cool note: Many of the laws are available on the site in mp3 format.)

The involvement of university curricula is just one of the things that makes this effort unique in the world. Another is the fact that they drafted the initial document to address both usability and accessibility at the same time. They wanted the two to remain linked, an approach I think is invaluable to making this sort of thing succeed. I'd love to see that happen at Texas State.

Also unique is the fact that there is one standard across the country, in plain language (citizen language as it was referred to) so that it could be understood by the average person. As the former University Webmaster for Texas State, I had to be aware of not only Federal rules (The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 508 of the Workforce Investment Act), but also State rules regarding accessibility (Section 2054.454 of the Texas Government Code and Title 1, Rule §213.37 (a) of the Texas Administrative Code). On top of that Tina Schulz, the Director of the Office of Disability Services at Texas State, and myself, wrote the University's own Web Accessibility Guidelines.

None of these is really in "plain language" either, though Tina and I did try to make our guidelines a little friendlier to the folks who were developing web sites with HTML.

They wrapped up the session by answering a few questions, then pulled out the Don Julio Tequila for everyone:


Irene said...

you had me at tequila....

MairaLG said...

I really enjoyed reading your blog, Fazia. It is good to see that Mexico is trying to make government Web sites usable and accessible. It will empower citizens and it is good way for the government to show a level transparency, which Mexico hasn't always been known for. Internet cafes are big hits in Mexico and other Latin American countries, so they are acknowledging the power of the Internet and its usefulness to inform the populace.

Obviously this endeavor will take a lot of time, but it manifesto gives it a good foundation and guidelines to follow. I would agree that keeping usability and accessibility linked is an integral part of the project.

jjhernandezd said...

Fazia, Thanks for your coverage.
Updates and new events at http://www.uaweb.org.mx

Javier Hernandez.-