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RE: 508 and spreadsheets?


From: Paul Bohman
Date: Sep 11, 2002 8:57AM

>>Karol wrote:
Complex tables with multiple headers is already difficult for me in
html. I have have a professor who uses complex tables and uploads them
to the internet. He uses excel spreadsheets to generate these and other
student materials He has asked me about Section 508 and excel
spreadsheets. Do his spreadsheet materials have to be 508 compliant. Can
someone give me a brief intro on how that works?

My response:
It seems that you have really asked two questions here:
1. How do you make Excel spreadsheets accessible?
2. Do spreadsheet materials have to be compliant with Section 508?

I'll answer each of these separately.

Question 1. How do you make Excel spreadsheets accessible?

This is a question that extends beyond the Internet, but I will answer
it in the context of Internet-based content. There are a few ways to put
spreadsheets on the Web.
A. You can put Excel spreadsheets directly on the web in their native
format. As such, the end user will need to have Excel installed on the
computer in order to get an accessible version, *plus* the Excel
spreadsheet would have to be created with logical header rows and/or
header columns properly marked up in the spreadsheet document itself.
People who do not have Excel on their computers will likely not be able
to access the content at all [...although I suppose that Microsoft may
have created an Excel "viewer" for Internet Explorer, similar to the
PowerPoint viewer. I'm not sure about that. Even if there is a viewer,
chances are that the viewer wouldn't make the material accessible to
screen readers, since the PowerPoint viewer does not.]
B. You can export the Excel spreadsheet to HTML using the features built
into Excel. You will need to make sure that the proper markup is
included for the headings and data cells.
C. You can use a commercial product such as PopChart, www.popchart.com,
to export from Excel, creating a fancy Flash version plus an accessible
text version of the data.
D. You can re-create the tables from scratch using an HTML editor.

From an accessibility standpoint, options B, C, and D are preferable,
each with its own specific advantages.

Question 2. Do spreadsheet materials have to be compliant with Section

If the organization that you work at is required to comply with Section
508, then yes, spreadsheets fall under the Section 508 umbrella and
would need to be accessible when placed on the Web.

So who has to comply with Section 508?

A. All U.S. federal government entities.
B. Any other entity that has declared that it will comply with Section
508 standards. This includes many state governments (and that state's
public universities). However, the legal debate over whether all state
governments (and their corresponding schools) are required to comply
with Section 508 or not has not been completely settled. If the state
*has* publicly stated that it requires Section 508 compliance, then it's
required within that state. If the state has not made such a statement,
then the issue is a bit cloudier. Some say yes. Others say no.

This is a topic that can be discussed in quite some detail. One source
that you can turn to for more information is the book Constructing
Accessible Web Sites, which you can read about on the WebAIM site:

Paul Bohman
Technology Coordinator
WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind)
Center for Persons with Disabilities
Utah State University

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