Are you serving the public effectively? Section 508 standards for government websites
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A recent report by the Department of Justice says many U.S. government websites aren’t easy for people with disabilities to use!
Shockingly, about 1 in 10 agencies’ websites have problems. Moreover, some big federal groups have only 50% or fewer of their websites working well for people with disabilities.
As we commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the initial enforcement of Section 508 standards in 2023, it becomes increasingly crucial for us to evaluate how effectively we are serving the public through our government websites.
We must assess whether our websites are accessible and in compliance with Section 508 accessibility requirements. If they fall short of these requirements, it is imperative that we take the necessary steps to rectify the situation.
Section 508 compliance ensures that government websites are inclusive, easily accessible, and user-friendly for all citizens, ultimately strengthening trust and providing equitable access to government services and information. This includes barrier-free access for individuals who have visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive impairments.
Developing a 508 compliant federal website is beneficial in many ways. By including those with disabilities, we foster inclusivity and equal access to critical information and services.
Wider Audience Reach: By accommodating users with disabilities, you expand your audience reach. For example, a visually impaired person can easily access important government documents and services using screen readers or other assistive technologies.
Legal Compliance: Meeting Section 508 requirements is a legal obligation for government agencies. Non-compliance can result in legal challenges and fines. Maintaining a compliant website helps avoid legal issues.
Enhanced Reputation: A 508 compliant website demonstrates a commitment to accessibility and inclusivity. This can enhance the government’s reputation and public trust. For instance, an accessible website with information about vaccination can be a lifesaver during a public health crisis.
Improved User Experience: Accessibility features, such as closed captions on videos can be helpful in noisy environments or for non-native English speakers.
Avoidance of Discrimination: Compliance prevents discrimination against people with disabilities, aligning with principles of fairness and equal treatment. An inaccessible website could inadvertently discriminate against users with disabilities, such as by not providing vital emergency information in accessible formats.
Did you know the U.S. Department of Education’s website faced criticism because of its lack of accessibility? There were issues with navigation, screen reader compatibility, and labelling of images and forms. Not just the education department, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) conducted a survey to highlight the substantial gap in compliance for the majority of federal agency websites in the US.
Lack of accessibility even resulted in legal compliance. Thereby the Social Security Administration faced a lawsuit for not making their website accessible to the blind users. The sad reality was also evident where lack of accessible information put lives at risk. Many state and local government websites drastically failed to provide useful information to disabled users during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lack of accessibility has been a long-standing issue. Addressing the accessibility issue is not just a legal obligation. If an entity wants to establish public trust and instil confidence in its citizens, it must work on providing barrier-free access to critical information.
After 21 years of the enforcement of Section 508 standards, it is sad to note that 20 out of 34 federal agencies have encountered challenges in achieving compliance. The underlying reason reported is the lack of adequate data for informed decision-making.
This situation calls for a crucial need for change. Prioritizing education and awareness regarding accessibility standards is imperative. To initiate this process, we are sharing a comprehensive checklist for Section 508 compliance. While developing a public website, below are fields to ensure accessibility.
To overcome accessibility barriers, agencies should first prioritize education and awareness among their web development and content creation teams. Ensuring that accessibility is essential right from the start. Making changes at a later stage can be more time-consuming and costly.
Compliance testing is the key driver in the process of effectively addressing the public.
It involves evaluating websites and digital content to ensure they meet accessibility standards. Regular compliance testing ensures that people with disabilities can access and use these resources effectively and equitably.
Section 508 compliance testing is divided into two categories, i.e. automated and manual audits.
While automated testing tools can identify some common issues, they often fall short of detecting around 70% of issues that can profoundly affect the user experience. This is where manual audits conducted by accessibility specialists become indispensable. These experts possess the knowledge and experience to uncover complex accessibility challenges. Human intervention ensures that websites are genuinely inclusive and legally compliant.
Furthermore, it is important to invest in regular manual audits by accessibility specialists. Regular audits and assessments, at least annually, are good practices for promptly identifying and addressing accessibility issues.
This practice not only identifies and rectifies accessibility issues comprehensively but also fosters a culture of continuous improvement.
Addressing the public effectively in terms of Section 508 compliance testing requires a holistic approach. Combine education, proactive design, and ongoing manual audits by accessibility specialists to improve user experience and garner trust among the citizens.
Is your federal website compliant with Section 508 and ADA standards?
If you have doubts then connect with the accessibility specialists at ADACP. We offer comprehensive manual audits for government agencies, ensuring your online presence is accessible to all citizens.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to reach a wider audience and enhance your agency’s reputation. Visit ADACP now and contribute to an inclusive digital future.