Section 508 Compliance: Don’t Make These 6 Mistakes

Section 508 compliance for a government website

Compliance with Section 508 means your organization is following a specific amendment of the Rehabilitation Act that requires information and communication technology (ICT) to be accessible.

The Rehabilitation Act is a federal law protecting the rights of people with disabilities. Section 508 of the act addresses ICT used by, or procured by, the federal government, its departments and its agencies. ICT can include websites, computer software, multimedia presentations, spreadsheets and internal documents.

Section 508 compliance means that digital files, web pages and other forms of ICT are equally accessible to all employees (or to all members of the general public, depending on whom the communication is for), regardless of whether or not these individuals have disabilities.

If you suspect you’re covered by Section 508 – or whether your funding or your ability to do business with a covered entity might depend on your compliance – then you won’t want to get it wrong. Here are six mistakes to steer clear of when you’re contemplating Section 508:

1. Deciding You Don’t Need to be Compliant

If you’ve concluded that your organization doesn’t need to concern itself with Section 508 compliance, you should reconsider. You may not be a federal agency that is directly covered by the legislation. However, you need to know that Section 508 compliance and ICT accessibility are very often listed as requirements in other situations, such as state funding of schools. Compliance with Section 508 is also mandatory for any ICT procured by the federal government. If you’re a supplier, a lack of compliance automatically rules out the possibility of your doing business with the government or any of its agencies.

Even if you don’t believe these situations will ever apply to your organization, there’s another law besides Section 508 that you need to consider. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a wide-reaching law that prohibits any form of discrimination against people with disabilities in the U.S., including in the private sector. If your electronic communications with customers or clients are not accessible to everyone, whether or not they have disabilities – if, for instance, people who are blind and use screen readers cannot “read” the images on your website because they don’t have an alt-text – then your organization is violating the ADA.

2. Underestimating the Business Opportunity

This is a potentially enormous mistake. There are over 60 million Americans with disabilities, and there is profit to be made by courting their business. This target market has a spending power that is more than four times bigger than the tween market, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Thus, companies that make an effort to ensure their digital properties are fully accessible aren’t only helping people with disabilities – they’re also helping themselves. Why provide millions of customers with a reason to give their business to your competition?

Web accessibility also draws in new customers who don’t have disabilities, as the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has shown. Accessible websites are more easily found through search engines, for instance, and are more effectively used by a variety of different people.

3. Assuming You Can Fall Back on the “Undue Burden” Argument

Have you been skipping over Section 508 compliance because you’re convinced you could argue that accessibility would pose an undue hardship for your organization? Probably not a good idea. To succeed with this argument, you would have to prove that the cost of making your ICT accessible is exceptionally high, or that achieving accessibility is close to impossible. Yet there are numerous resources available to your organization, including guidelines you can view free of charge, and trained experts who are able to remediate your digital properties for you at a reasonable cost. In fact, other organizations like yours have already made their ICT accessible. Thus, you are unlikely to get very far with this argument.

4. Failing to Ensure All Your Technology is Compliant

Don’t assume that only your PDF documents or only your online images have to be converted into accessible formats, and that Section 508 compliance doesn’t apply to your videos files or your PowerPoint presentations. In the same vein, don’t assume that only online public documents need to be accessible, but not your internal training materials or job postings. Section 508 doesn’t exempt certain files and formats. If Section 508 applies to your organization, it likely applies to all of the ICT that your organization produces or uses.

5. Disregarding the Section 508 Updates

The original Section 508 standards were first published in 2000. Technology has advanced exponentially in the years since then. The United States Access Board recently published an update to Section 508’s ICT accessibility requirements to respond to changing technologies and functionalities. The update takes into account a wide range of disabilities. It also considers the assistive technologies that are used by many people with disabilities to read digital files, go online or fill out forms. And it ensures consistency with other accessibility guidelines that exist today.

6. Creating Errors with Accessibility

If you’ve been taking steps to improve the accessibility of your digital properties, that’s a smart move. But it’s a wasted effort if it isn’t done properly. Without expertise, you may not realize you’re making accessibility mistakes. For example, it’s not enough to add alternative text to images. In order to be Section 508 compliant, that text must provide adequate descriptions of the images without being too convoluted. As another example, it’s not enough to have descriptive text for hyperlinks. That text must properly explain the purpose of the hyperlink, and it cannot be identical to the description of a different hyperlink. If you don’t have the know-how to fix accessibility problems with confidence, then it’s imperative that you work with a consultant who does.

Check with the Experts

Experienced, qualified consultants in digital accessibility can prevent you from making these and other mistakes with Section 508 compliance. Have questions about Section 508? They can answer those, too. Ask a consulting firm to tell you more about the business advantages of ensuring your digital properties are fully accessible, and delighting those of your customers who have 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 services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.