Despite accelerating internet penetration, a large portion of the population is still excluded from online activities. Much like the physical world, the digital world can be difficult for people with disabilities to navigate.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was established to ensure an open internet, accessible by all. W3C provides standards and guidelines for web development, and is a leading proponent of web accessibility.
According to Pew Research Center, 23% of disabled Americans never go online. Of those who use the internet, a whopping 71% will leave a website that doesn’t meet accessibility requirements, as reported in Click-Away Pound survey.
From a legal perspective, digital accessibility is recognized as a human right by the United Nations. As such, policy makers are strengthening regulations around web accessibility to address the problem of disability exclusion.
Digital inaccessibility is the biggest cause of disability exclusion on the web. Within the business context, the trend towards digitalization has affected the employability of people with disabilities. Conversely, companies that seek to accommodate disabled employees yield positive impact on workplace diversity and inclusion.
While different countries have different accessibility regulations, W3C sets the global standards for all electronic and information technology across the web with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). So it’s advisable that you get familiar with Section 508, a federal law that adopt the technical requirements from the WCAG to assess digital accessibility.
In this blog post, we will provide you with an overview of Section 508 Standards and the basic steps you can take to ensure digital accessibility within your organization.
Disclaimer: This article isn’t legal advice; it is intended to provide readers with a basic understanding of Section 508 standards. The best practices described herein are written based on collective insights from authoritative resources, as credited.
Section 508 Resources
Accessibility Regulations: An Essential Guide to Section 508
Section 508 was first enforced in 1986 as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It was refreshed in 2018 to bring American accessibility measures up to par with international standards. Specifically, it refers to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Access Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) and the European Commission ICT Standards for guidance.
In brief, Section 508 Standards are measured against the accessibility guidelines from WCAG 2.0.
The amendment also seeks to standardize accessibility requirements for information and communications technology (ICT) procurement; telecommunications products and services, as well as telecommunication equipment manufacture.
Below are the key areas that must be accessible for Section 508 compliance:
- Software Applications and Operating Systems
- Web-based Intranet and Internet Information and Applications
- Telecommunications Products
- Video and Multimedia Products
- Self-Contained, Closed Products
- Desktop and Portable Computers
Although Section 508 is only applicable to federal websites and associated websites of federal agencies, digital accessibility is still a burning issue across all organizations with an online presence. As government organizations bring web accessibility forward with the frameworks provided by Section 508, it is expected that web accessibility will soon become a legal requirement in the private sector.
How can you apply Section 508 Standards to ensure your business website is compliant?
Based on the rules and guidelines set by WCAG 2.0 AA, websites that pass Section 508 accessibility metrics must be:
- Perceivable: Website content and information must be presentable to users with disabilities.
- Operable: Enable navigation with accessibility features like voice commands and keyboard operations.
- Understandable: Information, content and all interface components must be presented in ways that are understandable by all users.
- Robust: Users must be able to access the content as technologies advance to keep the website adaptable with future developments in technology, especially with assistive technology.
In reality, building an accessible website isn’t difficult, yet minimal efforts are made to raise awareness for digital accessibility. In most cases, accessibility features only come later on the web development roadmap.
What about desktop apps and other digital property?
Section 508 covers accessibility guidelines for all ICT functions, from web content and digital media to web apps, which means you have to ensure your entire digital space is compliant.
The good news is, almost all major technological applications used in the workplace today have accessibility features. For instance, the Accessibility Checker for Microsoft Office or Accessibility Compliance with all Adobe products.
As a digital transformation advocate ourselves, Communardo is already taking the lead in making Atlassian products more accessible to every team with Accessibility for Confluence.
The guidelines for Section 508 compliance act as the main validation for digital accessibility, so you can make informed decisions about website design or new technology adoption in your organization.
Continue reading to uncover the simple steps to ensuring digital accessibility for your customers and employees.
Accessible and Universal Design Principles for Section 508 Compliance
When designing and developing digital platforms, accessibility should be part of the standard production. For example, web designers should be required to provide a descriptive tag for every element of the interface so that they’re readable by screen readers.
Basic elements like font color, typography, forms, and navigation, can easily be adjusted to make the website disability-friendly. These principles also apply across workplace apps like communication (Slack, Microsoft Teams) or project management (Jira, Confluence).
Next, we cover the universal design best practices for digital accessibility so you can effectively validate your organization’s digital ecosystem.
- All images must include descriptive texts and/or captions.
Example: Alternate text element alt=”Configure User Profile Field”
<img src=”https://www.communardo.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/image2017-6-7-8-33-54-256×256.png” alt=”Configure User Profile Field "Manager"”/>
- Avoid using color-coded fields or content (without text indicator) as navigational tools or to convey messages.
Example: Error message in red highlight
- Gifs are trendy but those that contain screen flickers with a frequency greater than 2Hz and lower than 55Hz can cause seizures for some people.
- Increase color contrast mode to make a webpage readable for visually imparied users.
Example: High-contrast mode in Accessibility for Confluence
Audio and video
- Include closed captioning and subtitles, and transcripts to aid multimedia content.
Example: Closed Caption feature on Youtube
Add alt text for videos so screen reader software can understand and describe an embedded video on the webpage.
- Design structural layout for keyboard usability so that mobility-limited users can access your website using keyboard commands.
Example: Accessibility for Confluence adjusts the tabulator sequence to improve the keyboard handling.
- Provide skip navigation links for keyboard-only users to enable them to move directly to the information section that they need.
Example: Skip links within a Confluence page
Assistive technology compatibility
- All forms and files on your page should be readable by screen reader software, which allows all users to fill out and submit forms, and able to access all forms of downloadable content available.
- Use Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) to allow users to interact with web content through voice commands.
While the internet gives people with disabilities more equitable living environments, for instance, borderless communication, learning and development opportunities, there is still a long way to achieving digital accessibility for all.
By taking the first steps to make accessible design a standard, you will be able to bridge the digital divide for your employees and customers. Also, having a Section 508 compliant website is essential to shield your business against accessibility lawsuits.
Need help creating an accessible digital workplace? Get in touch with us and learn how we can help!