June 25, 2004 Web Content JIS Compliance

Kazuhito Kidachi
Six Sigma Promotion Headquarters

On June 21, 2004, the JIS standards for Web accessibility, commonly referred to as the Web Content JIS was released.

Almost to the day three years ago in the United States, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was enforced, making accessibility to public information a mandatory requirement. Although the Web Content JIS announced recently is not legally binding like the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act, it has attracted much attention as Japan's first public Web accessibility guidelines.

Overview of the Web Content JIS

The Web Content JIS is officially titled, "Guidelines for older persons and persons with disabilities- Information and communications equipment, software and services- Part 3: Web content."

The Internet has grown rapidly to become part of our social infrastructure. Meanwhile more and more Web content has been produced with not enough attention paid to its accessibility. This fact has prompted the establishment of a framework that aims to improve the accessibility and convenience of even the most basic content for a broader spectrum of users.

The Web Content JIS essentially consists of three sections - "General Principles," "Specific Requirements for Development and Production" (hereinafter referred to as "Specific Requirements"), and "Overall Requirements for Providing and Improving Information Accessibility" (hereinafter referred to as "Overall Requirements").

The General Principles set out the general points to be considered in relation to Web content. The necessary requirements for upholding these principles are outlined in the Specific Requirements. The Overall Requirements focus on the process of managing Web content and set out the points to be considered in this area.

Web Content JIS compliance

Theoretically speaking, if then, based on a complete understanding of the General Principles, a website is created that satisfies the Specific Requirements and Overall Requirements, that content should be deemed as compliant with the Web Content JIS. However, it is not really that simple at all, because at the end of the day the requirements set out in this standard are merely guidelines.

While for many of the requirements listed specific measures are outlined for reference sake, these only serve as an example. Exactly how those measures are to be implemented needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Moreover, many of the requirements are worded using either "must" or "should" phrases. Surely those requirements that are described as being "should" need to be set out in more detail in terms of the accessibility criteria that websites should meet and an assessment then made as to whether measures need to be taken or not.

At present, there are also no tools available to verify whether the requirements have been satisfactorily met or not. Therefore, specific methods and criteria for verifying such should be established separately and implemented.

Some items can be verified automatically using software, etc. For example, when information is to be provided in text format instead of as a picture or image, whether or not alt properties are included in IMG tags can be verified using the HTML grammar check. However, people must then make the judgment as to whether the content is contextually appropriate. The case is the same for many of the other Specific Requirements, as well.

Furthermore, satisfying the Overall Requirements will require the overall operational flow of websites to be revised. As content is constantly being upgraded and refreshed, it is essential that it is continuously checked and improved so as to maintain a certain level of accessibility.

Demand for better Web accessibility

Although it would appear that accessibility tends to be a word used in relation to the elderly or disabled, this is in fact a completely inaccurate. Everyone can benefit from the advantages of improved accessibility. No one can escape the aging process, and even if you are healthy today, there is no way of knowing when and what could happen to negatively affect your health.

The outcome of Japan's long life expectancy and declining birthrate is that today, Japan has become the world's most rapidly aging nation. Providing access to Web content is a matter of urgency for public bodies, while private enterprises too are wasting no time in enhancing their website accessibility to fulfill their social responsibility and to minimize lost business opportunities.

On the day that the standards were released, we also launched our Web Content JIS Compliance Service. Based on our track record of implementing numerous management systems, including a human-centered design process (ISO13407), and our experience and achievements in the field of Web accessibility, we hope to contribute to improving website accessibility.

For more information on our services, timeframes and estimates, as well as examples of our work, please feel free to be in touch.