Ensuring Accessibility: Section 508 Testing Best Practices Unveiled
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Accessibility in the context of Section 508, otherwise referred to as Section 508 accessibility, is the inclusive practice of removing barriers that hinder people with disabilities from interacting with, or accessing, information, activities, and/or environments involving information and communication technology (ICT) underpinned by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. It is largely associated with creating user-friendly digital spaces.
Section 508 accessibility for an ICT product or service can only be guaranteed with a proper audit or testing of the product or service against the established accessibility standards. For instance, Section 508 compliance testing checks the extent to which an ICT product or service adheres to an up-to-date 508 compliance checklist or standards that help to ensure the product or service is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities.
Section 508 compliance testing, therefore, helps to identify and resolve any accessibility barriers that an ICT product or service has so that the barriers can be resolved to make the product or service more accessible.
Section 508 compliance testing should always have the ultimate goal of ensuring a product or service is accessible from the point of view of a user with any of the disabilities that affect how the users of the product or service interact with technology. For example, it should ensure that the product or service is able to properly interact with various assistive technologies, such as screen readers and voice recognition software.
While the most recent Section 508 compliance checklist applies only to federal agencies, it establishes a strong legal precedent that calls upon non-governmental organizations and businesses to be wise and test the compliance of their products and services to Section 508.
While Section 508 compliance applies to all ICT products and services, perhaps the most frequent aspect involves Section 508 standards for websites and web-based products and services. The current Section 508 accessibility standards for websites and web-based products and services are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. The guidelines require that digital properties be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
The 508 compliance checklist for a product or service to be perceivable entails the provision of text alternatives for non-text content like images or embedded tables, the provision of alternatives for time-based content, the creation of content that can be presented in different ways, and structuring content in a way that helps users see or hear it.
The checklist for testing whether a product or service is operable entails ensuring that all functionality associated with the product or service is available via keyboard, providing enough time for people to read or use the provided content, refraining from designing content in a way that is known to trigger seizures, and providing structure and methods that help users navigate a site or page as well as locate content and know where they are on a page or site.
For a digital product or service to be understandable, the Section 508 accessibility testing involving it should ensure the text associated with the product or service is readable or understandable, the design of associated web pages appears and operates as users expect, and users avoid and correct mistakes.
The checklist for robustness involves maximizing compatibility for current and future users as well as assistive technologies.
There are a number of settled best practices for ensuring accessibility through Section 508 compliance testing. Some of these are as follows:
One of the Section 508 testing best practices involves people who are undertaking the test continuously updating their knowledge and awareness of how some product or service design elements could potentially affect users of different kinds of disabilities.
For instance, when testing a document for Section 508 accessibility, the people undertaking the test need to be aware and knowledgeable on issues such as how fonts, bullets, formatting, and other issues specific to Microsoft Word could affect efforts aimed at making a document accessible. That is why one of the focus areas of ADACP’s Section 508 compliance services is providing our clients with the awareness and knowledge necessary for them to create Section 508-compliant documents.
When you contract the ADACP Section 508 compliance team to test your product or service with documents that need to be accessible to all users, we also test whether the product or service and its associated documents are user-friendly by applying optimal structure to tables, making heading tags consistent, marking footnotes correctly, and linking them so they read in logical order.
Ensuring that visual cues and information are limited is also one of the best practices in Section 508 compliance testing. This ensures that digital products and services avoid using graphic elements or color-coding to convey essential information. All graphics and relevant visual elements need descriptions that can be read by screen readers.
Another best practice in ensuring accessibility through Section 508 compliance testing is the use of automated testing so as to take advantage of high volume or automated 508 compliance scanning tools.
Automated scanning tools cannot apply human subjectivity and therefore either produce excessive false positives or, when configured to eliminate false positives, test for only a small portion of the requirements.
Automated testing determines the best strategic mix of false-positive generation vs. coverage of the 508 compliance-testing requirements for a product or service.
Manual compliance testing for conformity with Section 508 involves manually examining the accessibility of digital products or services. During the manual testing, a list of adjustments that need to be made to make the product or service accessible to all users is created. The list helps in the targeted pursuit of accessibility for the product or service.
Manual testing for digital products and services is a best practice in Section 508 testing and is preferred by professional auditors who evaluate the color, contrast, alt-text, dead links and link text, tab-index, embedded media, and HTML markup, among other things. It usually calls for talent and experience.
The hybrid approach to Section 508 compliance testing is emerging as a major best practice for delivering 508-compliant products and services. The approach is used to test the accessibility of websites and web-based products and services. It involves both automated and manual accessibility tests being conducted.
Hybrid testing is an excellent Section 508 testing technique because it guarantees accessibility of the digital product to all users because the automatic accessibility check aids in swiftly identifying the accessibility concerns in the product so that the human audit concentrates on determining the barrier regions as indicated by the automatic scans.
The expert conducting the manual test uses the automatic test reports to identify the elements in the product with accessibility issues, which enables him or her to direct further accessibility checks and provide practical solutions for removing the barriers found.
With the ever-evolving accessibility space, you need to understand the best practices being used to attain the accessibility standards you need. This is not an easy thing because it requires active and continuous engagement in the accessibility space as well as experience in accessibility testing.
You don’t have to put your core business aside, take time to learn about the current accessibility best practices, and establish the crucial emerging issues in the accessibility space so that you can have your digital product or service Section 508 certified.
You can trust us to help you out because, apart from being professionals in the wider accessibility space, ADACP has extensive experience helping businesses and organizations attain desired accessibility through very informative 508 compliance testing. For more information on our Section 508 compliance testing services, schedule a consult or call us at (626) 486-2201, and we will be happy to answer all your Section 508 accessibility questions. Our consultations are always free.