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Why You Need a Way to Check for Section 508 Compliance

team checking section 508 compliance

All federal agencies in the U.S. are required by law – specifically, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act – to ensure that their websites are accessible to people with disabilities. Even many non-federal agencies are required to comply with Section 508 as part of a state or local law that applies to them.

Accessible digital properties are ones that have been designed to be usable by people with various disabilities, such as blindness, deafness and quadriplegia. Section 508 used to include its own set of standards for web accessibility, but an update was published in January 2017, and websites must now follow the technical requirements of the universal Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, level AA1

A great advantage of this update is that the requirements under Section 508 now match the requirements of other accessibility laws. If you follow WCAG 2.0, level AA, you can be confident your website is free of barriers, no matter which laws you’re obligated to comply with.

Speaking of compliance, it’s important that you have a method of checking yours, once you’ve finished removing the barriers from your website. The reason is simple: You may believe you’ve fulfilled all the WCAG 2.0 requirements properly, and you may assume you’re compliant with Section 508, but the reality is, you might not be.

Here are five examples of areas where you might not be Section 508 compliant, even after you’ve made accessibility improvements.

Text Alternatives

What you did:
You’ve added text alternatives to all the images on your website. This way, if someone who is blind uses a screen reader to visit your website, they will be able to hear a description of the images.
It isn’t Section 508 compliant if…
…the text does not convey the same information as the images. If your web page features a photograph of a serene forest to symbolize the beauty and peace of nature, but your alternative text simply reads “trees,” then you haven’t actually communicated the meaning of the photo.

Captions

What you did:
You’ve added captions to the video clips on your website. This includes an instructional video that demonstrates how to complete and mail in some paperwork. The captions will enable someone who is deaf to understand the audio information presented in the video.
It isn’t Section 508 compliant if…
…the captions aren’t applied properly. If they’re only provided for narration, but some dialogue is missing, or important sounds such as a phone ringing haven’t been included, then the captions are still missing audio information. Captions are also non-compliant if they were applied using an automatic captioning tool and the captions were not checked for accuracy.

Color Contrast

What you did:
You’ve paid attention to the dark/light contrast between the text on your website and the background colors. You took care to ensure that the text is a dark color, while the background is a pale shade. This way, someone who has low vision will be able to read the text.
It isn’t Section 508 compliant if….
…you’ve used a smaller font on some sections of the page without adjusting the contrast accordingly. According to WCAG 2.0, Level AA, the minimum contrast depends on the size of the font. Smaller font needs more contrast in order to be easily read.

Responsive Design

What you did:
You’ve ensured that all the text on a web page is responsive – it can be increased to 200% if needed. You understand some people with vision disabilities use magnification software to enlarge their screen.
It isn’t Section 508 compliant if…
…instead of displaying properly, several paragraphs of text start overlapping when the page is magnified, making it impossible to read them. These pages need to be manually tested to ensure that text isn’t obscured or cut off when its size is increased.

Form Labels

What you did:
You’ve added labels or instructions wherever the website user is expected to input information. For example, when people sign up to receive your monthly newsletter, the online form includes labels beside the fields for their name, address, phone number and so on. This makes it easier for people with cognitive and learning disabilities, among others, to complete the form.
It isn’t Section 508 compliant if…
…the labels don’t provide enough instruction. For example, if a form field is labelled “name” without indicating whether the first name or last name should be entered, it can be confusing.

How Should You Check for Section 508 Compliance?

There are a number of downloadable accessibility testing tools and online checkers available that can test your web pages or website for Section 508 compliance. These are more useful, however, when you haven’t yet made any accessibility improvements, and you simply want to gauge the level of work that lies ahead as you strive to remove all barriers.

Keep in mind that automatic tools tend to be limited in scope. Only about 20% of the WCAG success criteria can be tested with an automated tool, the rest need to be verified with manual and functional testing.

Automated checkers are less useful as you get into the nitty-gritty detail of how well your accessibility improvements actually comply with the technical requirements of WCAG 2.0. Unfortunately, these checkers would likely miss many of the problems in the examples above.

That’s why, at this stage, the most reliable way to check for compliance is to use human testers who will conduct a combination of automated, manual and functional tests and apply their expert judgment to your project. They are more qualified to catch the accessibility problems listed above. And not only will they provide you with a detailed report of their findings, they can help you understand it, without bombarding you with technical jargon. They can also support you on an ongoing basis to remediate any problems that they find.

Doing a proper, thorough check for Section 508 compliance is an important step in the process of improving web accessibility – and meeting the needs of many more people with disabilities.

An Innovative Solution

eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.

References

  1. Text of the Standards and Guidelines United States Access Board, 2017

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