Section 508 is an important amendment to The Rehabilitation Act that protects the right of people with disabilities to have equal access to electronic and information technology.
Section 508 sets standards for accessibility that must be followed by every federal government department, as well as every organization that receives federal contracts or funding, and educational institutions that receive federal funding via the Assistive Technology Act.
The standards cover a lot of technological ground: computer hardware, software, networks, operating systems, multimedia, websites, printers and downloadable apps.
If you fail to remove barriers in any of these areas, not only are you in violation of a federal law, you’re also restricting opportunities for potential customers with disabilities to access and enjoy your services.
There’s only one sure way to know if your website, electronic documents and apps meet the standards of this section of the Rehab Act. You must carry out Section 508 compliance testing to detect any and all violations.
Section 508 Compliance Testing Checklist
What attributes or functions should you be checking for when you’re testing a website for Section 508 compliance, and how do these make a difference to people with disabilities?
Below is a brief 508 compliance testing checklist, along with explanations about why these attributes matter.
- There are text equivalents for every photo, image, logo or other non-text element. This is important because people who have vision disabilities and can’t see the images properly will know what’s contained in them. They may, for example, be using a screen-reader like JAWS to read all the text on the page.
- Pages don’t flicker at a frequency of more than 2 Hz or less than 55 Hz. This reduces the risk that they will trigger a seizure in people with seizure disorders.
- It must be possible to fill out online forms using assistive technology or using just the keyboard. If a form can only be filled out using a mouse to click from field to field, anyone who doesn’t have the hand dexterity to operate a mouse won’t be able to complete the form.
- There must be enough contrast between the information on the web page and the background colour. That way, the information is more readable by people with limited vision.
- There should be a way for people to skip over long lists of navigation links or multiple logos to get to the main content. This means someone with a physical disability who can’t scroll down quickly and easily will be able to navigate straight to the main part of the page.
Keep in mind these are just five of the many criteria included in the Section 508 standards. The full list of web standards is on the website of the United States Access Board.1
The standards also overlap somewhat with WCAG 1.0, the widely used Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Section 508 standards were based on WCAG 1.0, but the refreshed standards incorporate the WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
Is Section 508 Compliance Testing a DIY Project?
Can you complete this kind of testing yourself? It is certainly possible to do a limited amount of testing of your own website and other electronic products. You can use automated 508 compliance testing software products such as WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool), which will check web pages for Section 508 violations.
You can also test out your electronic technology and documents using screen readers and other kinds of assistive software and hardware, if you happen to have access to them. This is a fruitful way to uncover any barriers for people with disabilities who rely on these methods of navigating their computers, tablets or smartphones.
If barriers are found this way, you’ll need to be able to understand what the technical glitches mean, and decipher any automatically generated reports. And you’ll also need to be able to fix them – because, of course, until these accessibility problems have been fully remediated, you’re still not in compliance with Section 508.
What Can a Section 508 Compliance Consultant Do?
When you contract a firm to perform Section 508 compliance testing for your organization, you’ll notice that the testing is much more extensive than what most people are able to do themselves – with results that are a lot more detailed.
Let’s say you happened to be looking over the shoulder of a certified 508 compliance consultant. Here’s what you’d see them doing:
- There is a combination of automated 508 compliance testing tools and manual checking for individual web pages, documents and applications.
- Having users (people with disabilities) of assistive technologies, such as JAWS, test for inaccessibility.
- Testing individual website functions such as online forms or product purchases, among others.
- Producing an in-depth report that not only gives an overall rating of the level of Section 508 compliance, but also identifies, explains and provides code-level solutions for individual violations of Section 508 regulations.
- Ensuring reports are jargon-free so they can be understood, and providing personal interaction with experts who can discuss the reports and answer questions.
- Offering remediation, including periodic monitoring, and providing status reports as improvements are made.
It’s safe to say that a qualified consultant is pretty thorough! When it comes to the list of accessibility barriers that are found this way, there’s no “maybe” about them, since they’ve been tested and verified by a human expert.
That’s another advantage over automated compliance testing software, which often generates a list of “possible” barriers in addition to actual ones. This process may misidentify problems where none exist, causing confusion and wasted time.
When you have expert help, however, you can be confident that you’ve put the best possible effort into Section 508 compliance testing of your electronic and information technology.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with the required regulations and standards like Section 508. This includes integrating web accessibility evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative remediation solutions.
- Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology. United States Access Board.