Federal governments are required to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
It requires federal agencies to create, buy and use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessible to people with disabilities.
Failure to comply with Section 508 represents a serious legal risk to the federal agency.
Origins of Section 508 and WCAG
Accessibility legislation dates back to the 1970s, but advancements in technology particularly the internet, have made it necessary to revisit those laws.
This is where Section 508 that prohibits barriers in information technology and WCAG that sets web accessibility standards come into play.
History of Section 508
In 1998, the Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to include Section 508. The law requires all federal agencies to make their government information and communications technology (ICT) accessible to people with disabilities.
The law mandated that not only must these technologies be accessible for federal employees, but they must be accessible to the general public, too.
Latest updates to Section 508
The latest updates apply to the full range of public-facing content, including websites, documents, media, blog posts, and social media content of all federal agencies.
The rule also specifies that non-public-facing content such as surveys, forms, educational materials, etc, must also comply with the latest requirements.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
WCAG represents a higher, more explicit level of accessibility than even Section 508.
WCAG 2.0 provides three levels of compliance: A, AA, and AAA. Each level outlines a layer of checkpoints that gets deeper in terms of complexity.
- Level A will not meet all the needs of people with disabilities, but it’s considered beneficial to a wide range of visitors.
- Level AA addresses some of the biggest challenges users with disabilities face.
- Level AAA outlines the highest standards of accessibility, which cover more advanced barriers some people with disabilities face.
In addition to the conformance levels, WCAG 2.0 has four core principles:
Perceivable: The elements on the page have to detectable to everyone. Examples may include adjustable font sizes and alt-text descriptions for images.
Operable: Everyone must be able to interact with the website regardless of disability.
Understandable: Users must be able to understand the content and the instructions on the site.
Robust: The content must be accessible on all kinds of devices. The website must be compatible with assistive technologies.
Section 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 colour blind)
- Supplement your audio and video: For maximum accessibility, sync all captions, and make sure that the audio transcripts and video files include transcript elements.
- Make sure you are keyboard-friendly: A website must be designed 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 any federal agency website. The same applies to documents and PDFs, as well as any other form or file format.
- “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.
- Use image alt text consistently: Alt text should be used in every graphic element, whether it’s an image, diagram, photo, etc.
- Provide unique hyperlink labels: The text that links to another web page is known as hyperlinks. These links need to be quite descriptive (instead of “click here,” for example).
- Avoid poor colour and contrast combinations: People suffering from colour blindness won’t be able to distinguish certain colors on a website. To achieve 508 compliance, use text and page background colors that have a significant level of brightness and contrast.
codemantra is a leading Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) Solutions Provider. Its AI-driven platform automates digital document accessibility compliance; captures, classifies, and extracts data; and transforms documents into any output format.
How codemantra helps?
codemantra’s accessiblityInsight™ provides end-to-end accessibility compliance for web content thereby assisting government agencies with their federal government-mandated 508 compliance requirements.
Federal governments set the bar when they comply fully with Section 508 requirements. This means organizations have to follow suit and incorporate accessibility from the beginning to avoid the risk of enforcements and hefty fines.