What Does Section 508 Compliance Mean?

  • 2.02.2022

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    What Does Section 508 Compliance Mean?

    Section 508 and Accessibility

    While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was passed into law in 1990, is acknowledged for bringing accessibility to the mainstream’s attention, it primarily applies to the commercial and physical built environments. It took roughly 8 years for the ADA’s application to the digital world to be achieved.

    The US Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require all federal agencies to procure, create, use, and maintain Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of whether or not they work for the federal government. This was significant for People with Disabilities (PWDs), since the Rehabilitation Act includes circumstances that relate to federal government funds.

    Section 508, and its subsequent updates, compels the federal government to guarantee that individuals with disabilities have equivalent access to and use of ICT as those without disabilities. It applies to any electronic information distribution, including web pages, desktop applications, documents, presentations, and spreadsheets. That implies that everything purchased with federal government funding, from desktop software used by a few employees to a web page accessible to anybody in the world, must be 508 compliant.

    By targeting the purchasing power of the federal government, Section 508 closed any avenues for the federal government to procure products and services that are less accessible to PWDs than those that are more accessible. It has sparked an interest in addressing the longstanding accessibility barriers in the ICT sector.

    Domains for Section 508 Compliance

    Section 508 provides the accessibility standards for the following:

    1. Websites, web applications, desktop software, and mobile applications;
    2. Printers, scanners, phones, and kiosks;
    3. Software used but not purchased by the federal government;
    4. Email, PDFs, MS Office documents, and support materials;
    5. Posting to and the use of social media sites;
    6. Survey questionnaires;
    7. Templates or forms;
    8. Education or training materials;
    9. Intranet content designed as a web page;
    10. Emergency notifications;
    11. Decisions adjudicating an administrative claims or proceedings;
    12. Formal acknowledgments of receipt;
    13. Internal and external program or policy announcements;
    14. Notices of benefits, program eligibility, employment opportunity, or personnel actions.

    Section 508 VPAT itemizes the standards required for accessibility of various products and services. For web-based products and services, the standards were updated through the revision of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. These may be found in the refreshed Section 508 VPAT for websites and web-applications, as derived from Sub-Part B, 1194.22 of Section 508.

    Section 508 compliance certification for websites and web-applications requires conformity with sixteen provisions that signify that a website or application is accessible to people with disabilities. The provisions’ primary purpose is to enable accessibility for visually impaired individuals using such assistive technology as screen readers by providing contextual text labels and descriptions for visuals, navigation, and other web page components.

    The Meaning of Section 508 Compliance Certification

    A Section 508 compliance certification for a website or web-application demonstrates that a website or web-application complies with the sixteen provisions for websites and web-applications as outlined in Section 508 VPAT. The sixteen provisions are as follows:

    1. The provision of a text equivalent for every non-text element;
    2. Synchronization of equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation with every presentation;
    3. Designing of web pages in such a way that all information that is conveyed with color is also available without color;
    4. Organization of documents in such a way that makes them readable without requiring an associated style sheet;
    5. Provision of redundant text links for each active region of a server-side image map;
    6. Provision of client-side image maps instead of server-side image maps, except in regions that cannot be defined with an available geometric shape;
    7. Identification of row and column headers for data tables;
    8. Use of markup to associate data cells and header cells for data tables that have two or more logical levels of row and column headers;
    9. Titling of frames with text that facilitates frame identification and navigation;
    10. Designing of pages in a way that avoids causing the screen to flicker with a frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz;
    11. Provision of a text-only page, with equivalent information or functionality, to make a website comply when compliance cannot be accomplished in any other way, with the content of the text-only page being updated whenever the primary page changes;
    12. Identification of the information provided with functional text that can be read by assistive technology when pages utilize scripting language to display content or to create interface elements;
    13. Provision of a link to a plug-in or applet that complies with Section 508 Part B – 1194.21 (a) through (l) when a web page requires that an applet, plug-in, or other application be present on the client system to interpret page content;
    14. When electronic forms are designed to be completed on-line, the form shall allow people using assistive technology to access the information, field elements, and functionality required for completion and submission of the form, including all directions and cue;
    15. Provision of a method that permits users to skip repetitive navigation links; and
    16. When a timed response is required, the user shall be alerted and given sufficient time to indicate more time is required.

    These provisions can be summed up as having websites and web-applications that are perceivable, i.e., with web content that is made available to the senses – sight, hearing, and/or touch; with interface forms, controls, and navigations that are operable; with information and the operation of user interfaces that is understandable; and with content that is robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

    In addition to adhering to these sixteen standards, Section 508 compliance entails that the assistive technology offered to PDWs improves PWDs’ access to previously inaccessible products and services. It also entails providing knowledge and operability for assistive technologies to stand on in order to achieve significantly greater accessibility.