You’ve probably heard of Section 508, but probably don’t really understand exactly what it is, or how it might be relevant to your business.
Section 508 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (amended in 1998), and its purpose is to increase digital technology accessibility for disabled people. Some people get Section 508 confused with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), however, the two sets of regulations are different in their primary aim.
The ADA was created to ensure that people who have disabilities aren’t discriminated against, whereas the goal of Section 508 is to ensure equal and fair access to technology. Section 508 only applies to agencies and institutions that fall within the federal government or companies that conduct business with the federal government (i.e. contractors, vendors, etc.). If you’re still confused, don’t worry. Below we go over everything you need to know about Section 508 compliance and standards.
Section 508 Standards
Created in 1998 to ensure that disabled people have equal access to digital technology (and content), Section 508 has played an important role in the reformation of digital content/technology (in regards to ensuring that disabled people can properly access it). Below are some of the different types of technologies that are included in Section 508:
- Mobile applications
- Computer applications
- Web content (nearly all forms)
- Video content
- Multimedia (eg. slideshows)
- Computer systems and related electronics
Section 508 Compliance
If you’re a federal agency, or you do business with one (in any way), it’s required that your digital content be Section 508 compliant. So then, how exactly do you become compliant with Section 508? Below we cover some basic examples of how to become Section 508 compliant, as well as the most recent updates to the law. You can read more about Section 508 compliance at W3C’s Section 508 page.
Examples of Being Section 508 Compliant
One of the best examples of being Section 508 compliant would be incorporating section 508 regulations into the development of an eLearning course. eLearning professionals already have a complicated job (trying to make content easily digestible and effective), and if you add Section 508 into the mix you can be sure that a headache isn’t too far off.
Section 508 was last updated in 2018, and that update brought along some major implementation changes. Below are some examples of new Section 508 standards that any business or federal agency could benefit from incorporating into their content development strategy. Additional examples of standards are available here.
Developing Content for Color Blindness
One of the new focuses of the 2018 update to Section 508 is color contrast to improve accessibility for people who are color blind. People who suffer from color blindness cannot easily distinguish between low contrasting colors. The 2018 update to Section 508 recommends making color contrasts more drastic to ensure that everyone can easily view and understand web content.
Don’t Forget About Screen Readers
Screen reading technology allows people who are blind (or have very bad eyesight) to effectively read and engage with digital content. One of the main focuses of the 2018 update to Section 508 was the focus on enhancing the UX of screen reading users. The alt-text is very important here. Using text to accurately describe non-text sections of a page is vital to being Section 508 compliant (especially in regard to screen reading users).
Voiceover Audio Requires Proper Transcriptions
If any of your content utilizes voiceovers (e.g. in a video), then it’s a requirement of Section 508 that you have suitable transcriptions of that audio. Whether it’s a typed transcript or closed captioning on the video itself, transcription/captioning is essential for those who cannot hear (or have a very poor hearing).
Always remember to manually test all of your content against federally recognized Section 508 checklists. There are countless checklists available online that can all help during a manual review process. Of course, there are also Section 508 auditing companies that can perform in-depth audits of your company’s content to ensure it’s compliant with Section 508.
While checklists are an awesome tool to use to make sure you’re on the right path, they aren’t definitive and prone to human error (during a manual review). This is why it’s generally recommended to go with a company that specializes in Section 508 regulations and standards. If you opt to do your review manually, use more than one checklist, and don’t forget to include the most recent updates to Section 508 (otherwise your website could technically be noncompliant).