Section 508 is an update to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which required that all federal agency programs, activities, and content be made accessible to people with disabilities. Signed in 1998 by U.S. President Bill Clinton, Section 508 added information technology and electronic communications such as websites to those requirements. Whether you’re specifically working on 508 compliance or not, companies like accessiBe offer a suite of solutions to help you achieve greater web accessibility.
What is Section 508 Compliance?
What section 508 means: All websites, web assets, and information technology processes operated by U.S. federal agencies and departments must comply with web accessibility standards, and ensure that their communications are accessible to people with disabilities.
Who section 508 affects: All federal agencies and departments must adhere to 508 compliance. These agencies are required to complete regular reports to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the General Services Administration (GSA) to ensure continued compliance.
What are the Requirements for Section 508 Compliance?
Section 508 requires broad accessibility considerations across a number of areas, including:
- Content creation;
- Design and development;
- Website testing;
- Training, policy, and management;
- Buying and sourcing accessible products and services.
In terms of creating web content, section 508 compliance follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, with the same expectations that all copy, design, and user experiences are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Since WCAG 2.1 is the current standard, federal agencies can choose to align to that if they prefer—compliance to 2.1 also ensures compliance with 2.0.
To ensure 508 compliance, federal agencies need to test their websites through one of three means:
- Automated testing, through software tools that scan and evaluate web content;
- Manual testing, with web content professionals or potential users repeatedly testing the site themselves with a consistent process;
- Hybrid testing, which is a combination of both automated and manual testing.
Federal agencies can also participate in the Interagency Trusted Tester program, which promotes consistent, cost-effective testing methods to increase accuracy and reduce agency expenses.
What are the Benefits of Section 508 Compliance?
Complying with section 508 isn’t just a matter of federal law. As with web accessibility in general, it carries many other benefits, including:
- Sound, well-developed websites that run faster and are less prone to bugs and crashes;
- User experiences that are consistent, logical, and easy to navigate;
- On-page copy that is clear, direct, and easy to understand for all reading levels;
- Assets and rich media that are usable by everyone, thanks to alt-text and metadata.
It also ensures that digital content is available to a much wider audience, so the federal government is able to provide critical products and services to all residents, whether they’re disabled or not.
Section 508 compliance is a crucial law for all federal government departments and agencies, requiring that they provide accessible websites and digital experiences for all users, in accordance with WCAG 2.0. While most other organizations don’t need to worry about specific 508 requirements, they should still seek to follow current web accessibility standards for their and their customers’ benefit.
Section 508 compliance is an essential aspect of web accessibility, particularly for federal agencies and departments in the United States. However, it is also important for all organizations to consider the impact of their digital content on people with disabilities. Making web content accessible is not only a matter of compliance, but it is also a way to reach a wider audience and improve the user experience for all users.
To achieve web accessibility, organizations should consider implementing a range of accessibility solutions, such as providing alternative text for images, using clear and concise language, ensuring adequate color contrast, and providing keyboard navigation options. Additionally, it is essential to prioritize accessibility in the design and development process, rather than treating it as an afterthought.
Organizations can also benefit from implementing accessibility solutions beyond the basic requirements of Section 508 compliance. For example, incorporating voice recognition and other assistive technologies can enhance the user experience for individuals with disabilities.