Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a document that ensures that every web page, software, or app, is accessible to all people with disabilities. Inside, there is a checklist that helps simplify the federal information that consists of within the Act.
In times when web accessibility is very popular, the 508 compliance checklist is something that everyone should know and be able to understand. It is also a federal requirement that follows guidance through various official US government portals. The best way to do that is to start digesting the criteria and optimizing your web pages, apps, or software in simple steps.
In order to meet the accessibility criteria, one must first test their website, app, or software and see if the requirements are met. When testing, you will notice different recommendations such as alt text alternatives on your images, accessibility in PDF files, etc.
In today’s guide, we will go over all of these accessibility requirements under Section 508 and talk about every element in detail. We will also describe how are these scanned by assistive technologies and why sometimes you can fail in meeting the criteria.
What Are Section 508 Compliance Requirements: A Little Bit Of History
If you are new to accessibility or assistive technology standards, you probably don’t know that the Rehabilitation Act for these was originally introduced in 1973. Section 508, on the other hand, was added as an amendment to the original version in 1986.
The goal of these regulations was to create a standard around electronic and information technologies. However, there were no meaningful enforcement mechanisms back then, which is why in 1998, the US Congress implemented a new Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, dealing with issues of compliance through the process of market research and government procurement.
With the last version, there were many issues of compliance that were addressed, as well as some technical standards against which products can be evaluated to establish and confirm that they meet the technical compliance standards.
What Are The Main Section 508 Compliance Requirements?
Essentially, Section 508 requires that all Federal information that is electronically accessible needs to also be accessible for people with disabilities. This includes a number of technical standards that need to be met so that Section 508 compliance is met.
Below, we are listing a summary of some of the technical standards for Section 508 compliance that need to be addressed for various electronic and information technologies:
Desktop & Portable Computers
The Rehabilitation Act talks about certain guidance for standardized desktop and portable computers and operating controls, including elements such as keyboards and touch screens.
Self-Contained & Closed Products
In other words, these products are ones where the user is not able to add or connect their own properties. For instance, there are certain fax machines, printers, kiosks, and other products that require access features to be built in order to ensure full compliance.
Software Apps & Operating Systems
Software needs to be accessible with adequate keyboard navigation. The same applies to web browsers – their capabilities need to be aligned with certain technical standards to achieve full web compliance.
Section 508 addresses accessibility issues for many telecommunication products. For example, these include cell phones, voicemail systems, etc. All of these technologies need to be compatible with hearing aids, assistive technology, and similar devices.
The technical standards required by Section 508 include details on proper captioning and audio descriptions of multimedia products including training or informational productions. For these types, a person with a disability needs to identify captions as the best way to understand the context of the video and its attributes.
Web-Based Intranet/Internet Applications
Lastly, the web-based intranet or internet applications need to allow access to assistive technology such as Braille displays, so that users with disabilities are able to access the content on the websites.
Section 508 Compliance Requirements For People Using Assistive Technology (Screen Readers, Magnifiers, Etc.)
If you want to get started with the Section 508 checklist and ensure that accessibility tags are present in your content, here are some of the categories including the common accessibility considerations that you need to make:
- Landmarks: These are used to help assistive technology users navigate to and past the blocks of content.
- Language attribute: We all know that different languages have different punctuation and symbols. Therefore, each language should be interpreted correctly, even if there are dashes or marks in it.
- Navigation: Many organizations face troubles because of improper navigation, or the ability for the user to navigate throughout the website, app, or software’s navigation menu with their keyboard only.
- Skip navigation: If you include a “skip to main content” button near the nav. menu, you are ahead of the game and comply with Section 508 standards.
- Document structure: The document structure needs to include semantic headings and a logical content structure.
- Links: All links should stand out, be underlined, and have a focus state in the HTML so that the reader knows that the (linked) text is pointing to another page.
- Alt text on images: Using the proper alt text means that each image will get an accurate description. If the images are decorative or are intended to be decorative in nature, the image can be tagged as null.
- WebForms: Whether it’s basic or advanced, web forms are needed. However, they also need to be accessible – for that, they need to follow a logical layout, use placeholder attributes instead of label tags, have labeled fields, and connected form elements using a fieldset along with a legend that describes each field.
- ARIA Labels: ARIA is something created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and is meant to make information readily available for screen readers. It is a core concept of accessibility and a valuable tool. The only issue is that these labels are often used in the wrong way.
- Media: Despite their popularity nowadays, there are people who are not able to watch videos. That is why you should include captions or text alternatives to make your videos accessible for the deaf or people that are hard of hearing.
- Color: People with vision and color deficiencies may have difficulty viewing your website or fail to see some colors. Make sure to set up the color contrast ratios early in the design, so that your text is easy to tell apart for users with vision impairments such as color blindness or low vision.
- Color Blindness Test: There are plenty of tools for testing your website’s visibility for different types of color blindness. You can find them here.
- Flashing/Blinking Test: Properties that are flashing or blinking are one example of elements that can trigger seizures for people with epilepsy, so make sure to avoid them.
- Text Size: Some people can’t read small or normal text, so make sure that your text is easy to read when made larger, too. The base text size when testing should be 16px.
- Page Titles: Your page titles need to be brief but descriptive, making it easy for screen readers to interpret them.
- Testing: There are many ways for testing your website against other categories. For instance, you can try testing if you can access it with only your keyboard, or do testing with a screen reader.
The checklist above is a great place to start testing the properties on your website. You can establish checklists for your site and start implementing the changes.
What Are The Best Tips For Ensuring Full Section 508 Compliance?
As we said in the beginning, Section 508 is a complex standard that is complete in many ways. You can expect to find a lot of guidance and checklists on how to ensure accessibility, how not to fail with it, and how to grant full access to people with disabilities. For instance, the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has worked on a tutorial to give us comprehensive information and instructions on how to comply with the 508 standards.
The tips generally stick to the following 508 Compliance checklist:
- Use clear visuals: Make sure to use clear visuals, whether those are images or documents. The image, for instance, should be easy to search and have all the proper elements such as alt text (especially useful for people who are colorblind)
- Supplement your audio and video: For maximum accessibility, you should sync your captioning, and make sure that your audio transcripts and video files include transcript elements.
- Make sure you are keyboard-friendly: Remember that not every user knows how to use a mouse, which is why you should aim for easy navigation with the keyboard by including headings, lists, and other elements.
- Provide accessible forms and files: Users with screen readers need to be given access to any form and be able to submit it on your website. The same applies to documents and PDFs, as well as any other form or file format which includes fulfilling.
- “Skip Navigation” options: Repetitive elements can be sorted with “Skip Navigation” options in the menu, allowing users to get to the main content of the pages.
- Create tables, lists, and fillable forms: Using tables, lists, and fillable forms needs to be consistently done. If you are making a PDF accessible, you should work with Adobe Acrobat PDF to ensure that they are well converted to PDF.
- Optimize your background: No matter how great your background is, it may hide the form for some people, not be accessible, or have too much contrast. Try to avoid text boxes and complex backgrounds with too much contrast.
- Avoid encoding errors: Fonts that are not regular may trigger some special characters, which results in encoding errors on the site. Make sure to optimize this in each version and make it accessible to people with disabilities.
- Keep it simple with special effects: If you have special effects applied to text, you will probably fail to achieve standard 508 compliance on your site. Make sure to eliminate any moving, flashing, or blinking text sections.
- Use image alt text consistently: Alt text should be used in every graphic element, whether it’s an image, diagram, photo, or else on your site.
- Provide unique hyperlink labels: The text that links to another web page is known as a hyperlink. These links need to be quite descriptive (instead of “click here,” for example).
- Avoid poor color and contrast combinations: People suffering from color blindness won’t be able to distinguish certain colors on your website. To achieve 508 compliance, use text and page background colors that have a significant level of brightness and contrast.
- Create online fulfillable forms: Forms are always appreciated, especially when they are electronic and designed to be completed online.
We hope that this guide gave you insights on all the checklists you need to optimize your websites and make every bit of information accessible.
If you need professional assistance, you are in the right place. We provide services that assist you with ensuring full compliance and completing every step of the process with ease. For more details, you can always contact us at our phone number: 561-258-9300 and schedule a free consultation with our team of experts!
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The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.