Section 508 Compliance For Online Businesses
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The term “Section 508” is frequently used in reference to the Revised Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act. The Act requires that the federal government procures, creates, uses, and maintains information and communication technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of whether or not they work for the federal government.
Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in ICT for people with disabilities. Under the law, federal agencies must provide their employees, as well as members of the public who have disabilities, access to ICT that is comparable to the access available to other federal employees or members of the public.
Section 508 compliance, therefore, refers to conformity to the Section 508 accessibility requirements when procuring, creating, using, and maintaining ICT so that the ICT offers people with disabilities access that is comparable to that experienced by everyone else. Generally speaking, Section 508 compliance is underpinned by federal agencies procuring the most assessable electronic information technology (EIT) product or service that meets the business needs of the agency.
Without a standardized method for recording Section 508 compliance, producers or providers of EIT products or services might have created accessibility conformance reports in response to their own interpretation of the Section 508 Standards, which could have made finding the most accessible EIT products or services very difficult.
It was on the foregoing basis that the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), in collaboration with the General Services Administration (GSA), developed the voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT).
The VPAT is a self-disclosing prototype template document used for assessing and documenting the accessibility of an EIT product or service in accordance with the established accessibility standards, namely, the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and 2.1, the Revised Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, and the European Union (EU) EN 301 549 Accessibility Standard.
The VPAT’s initial iteration was based on Section 508 guidelines, but more recent iterations have included the WCAG standard’s requirements. For instance, the VPAT 508 edition, which anchors the criteria and technical standards for compatibility with the Revised Section 508 requirements as well as those of WCAG 2.0 or WCAG 2.1, is the VPAT edition for Section 508 compliance certification.
The universal standard WCAG 2.0 serves as a voluntary consensus standard for web content accessibility. It assures that web content is Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR). Its POUR model reflects the high-level principles on which the fundamental structure of EIT accessibility is premised.
Updated and expanded from WCAG 2.0 is WCAG 2.1. This addresses the adaptive web page designs, mobile device use, and associated barriers experienced by users with low eyesight, movement disabilities, and cognitive disabilities.
Given that the Section 508 VPAT edition also contains the criteria and technical specifications for accessibility of online EIT products and services, it is the ideal edition of the VPAT document for use in documenting Section 508 compliance for online businesses. You can review a Section 508 VPAT example to understand how the Section 508 VPAT document integrates the Revised Section 508 requirements as well as WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 requirements.
If you want to sell your online products or services to the federal government, its agencies, or organizations that get funding from the federal government, you may need to obtain Section 508 compliance certification if you operate an online business. Keep in mind that Section 508 covers EIT that is published by federal agencies for use by the general public as well as EIT used by employees of federal agencies.
Examples of the EIT that you may offer through your online business offerings and that you may wish to offer for use by federal agencies include Internet and intranet websites, PDF documents, content on DVDs and CDs, online trainings, webinars, teleconferences, technical support call centers, remote access websites and tools, software and operating systems, and user guides for software and tools, among others.
To ensure that you’re not excluded from federal procurement processes involving the procurement of these online business products and services, you’ll require Section 508 compliance certification. Here is how you can achieve the certification:
Understanding what Section 508 comprises is a vital first step toward achieving compliance for your online business. This could entail, among other things, studying correctly completed Section 508 VPAT examples, conducting research to learn about the accessibility requirements and technical requirements for Section 508 compliance, and studying the VPAT Section 508 compliance statements for companies known for best practices in Section 508 compliance for online businesses.
Adhering to the WCAG is the greatest approach to guarantee Section 508 compliance for your online business. WCAG is the international benchmark for web accessibility, despite the fact that it is not a legally enforceable regulation. In reality, WCAG 2.0 Level AA criteria are used to evaluate accessibility for Section 508 compliance certification for online businesses. You can learn more about the various versions and conformance levels under WCAG by following the regular expert publications about the VPAT.
It’s critical to regularly assess how accessible your online business’s EIT products, services, and related digital assets are in light of WCAG requirements. Online business accessibility audits are formal assessments of your online business performed by technical accessibility experts to find any WCAG-compliant accessibility problems.
When conducting the accessibility audits for Section 508 compliance, use WCAG 2.1 because it is often cited in civil rights enforcement actions as the appropriate standard by the U.S. Department of Justice. Audits can be done using online accessibility checkers, manual testing, or a hybrid of the two.
Following an accessibility audit of your online business, the next step is to address or correct any accessibility problems that were found. By hiring a dependable accessibility professional to do your accessibility audit, you will be able to get advice from them on how to prioritize the accessibility problems found so that you may address those that represent the greatest obstacles to an accessible user experience first.
It is advisable to train the staff or other key personnel in your business or firm to avoid accessibility challenges in the future. The best practices and formalization of accessibility in your processes and procedures should be the main themes of such trainings.
To make sure that accessibility is built into your business’s design and development processes by default and that your online products and services are created with accessibility in mind, you can train your employees on accessibility. Future remediation work will be lessened as a result.