In 1998, President Clinton signed into law the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. This law strengthened section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was (and still is) of great importance to website accessibility. If you work for a government agency or at an organization that receives federal funding, the Rehabilitation Act and Section 508 apply to your organization’s website. Read on for more information.
What Is Section 508?
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act details the requirements for federal agencies or any federally funded projects to provide accessible information technology for individuals with disabilities. This means that technology or information that is used by or disseminated from federal agencies, including websites must be accessible.
If the content cannot be accessed by a member of the public with a disability or a Federal employee with a disability, Section 508 states that the federal agency must make an effort to provide some means of access, whether through the purchase of new technology, or providing another alternative means of receiving the information.
Additionally, the law states that the United States Access Board was to put accessibility standards into place “for such technology for incorporation into regulations that govern federal procurement practices” and provides a complaint process for concerns about accessible technology.
Who Section 508 Applies To
Section 508 applies to all federal agencies when developing or using electronic and information technology, such as on federal web pages. It also applies to any information technology that is purchased with federal dollars, including any websites for nonprofits or other organizations that are paid for with federal grants.
What Are 508 Compliance Requirements?
In order for a federal agency to be compliant with Section 508, they must follow these requirements:
When developing, procuring, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology, each Federal department or agency, including the United States Postal Service, shall ensure, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency, that the electronic and information technology allows, regardless of the type of medium of the technology —
(i) individuals with disabilities who are Federal employees to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities; and
(ii) individuals with disabilities who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal department or agency to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by such members of the public who are not individuals with disabilities.
2017 Section 508 Updates
Section 508 was updated in January of 2017. This update was intended to “refresh” some of the guidelines and standards in accordance with the evolution of technology. The revised standards continued to support accessibility, and also considered the cost of providing accessible technology to federal agencies.
The main purpose of the new guidelines was to implement a new functionality-based requirement. As technological advances led to multifunction devices, the new functionality-based standards ensure that accessibility of federal agencies would continue to advance along with technology.
The update also put a new format into place, modeled after the regulatory approach that was first used in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 2004, and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Guidelines. The new format established scoping and technical requirements.
Additionally, the 2017 update to Section 508 took into account the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and established that all non-web content, web content, and software must conform to the standards set forth in WCAG 2.0.
How is 508 compliance testing done?
508 compliance testing can be performed in three different ways: automated, manual, or hybrid testing. In all of these tests, the scanner, accessibility testing tool, or reviewer is really testing for conformance to WCAG success criteria, not Section 508.
Automated Compliance Testing
In automated testing, conformance testing tools will automatically scan and test electronic content for accessibility errors or violations of WCAG success criteria. Automated scans can be helpful for websites with lots of content, but they have their limitations. Automated tools cannot apply human subjectivity, which means they can produce excessive false positives. Additionally, automated tools can only detect a percentage of useability problems and cannot provide a comprehensive picture of a website’s accessibility status. Multiple tools may have to be used for multiple forms of content, like HTML, Word documents, PDFs, etc.
Manual Compliance Testing
Manual compliance testing typically involves a trained accessibility professional using the Trusted Tester Program, a manual testing process that aligns with the ICT Testing Baseline. The Trusted Tester program provides reliable test results, time, and time again.
The ICT Testing Baseline attempts to cut down on ambiguity while increasing the consistency of test results. It explains how the new conformance levels of the 2017 Section 508 standards should be evaluated. While the ICT Testing Baseline is not a test itself, it does assist in creating manual tests.
Manual testing can also be performed by real-world users with disabilities who navigate your website using various assistive technology devices and provide feedback.
Hybrid Compliance Testing
Lastly, there is hybrid compliance testing. A hybrid approach provides both automated and manual 508 compliance testing. This is best used for a high volume of electronic content and for ensuring a completely accessible website. On an already accessible website, the hybrid model typically works by using automated tools to scan large amounts of electronic content regularly, and periodically running manual tests on high priority newly published content.
Read more about Section 508 compliance testing methods on the section508.gov website or learn more about how Equalize Digital can perform hybrid compliance testing, including accessibility audits and user testing, for you.
How Do I Make My Website 508 Compliant?
To make your website 508 compliant, there are a number of things you can do:
Familiarize Yourself With Section 508 and WCAG
First, we suggest reading Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in full, as well as the updated sections from 2017. You can do that by clicking the buttons above. This will provide you with background information on Section 508, as well as some guidelines for whether or not your website needs to be 508 compliant.
Next, read and study the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These standards are used to measure and confirm 508 website compliance. Because the 2017 updates to Section 508 mandated conformance to WCAG 2.0, it is vital that you understand the guidelines and relevant success criteria.
Test Your Website for Accessibility
If your existing website predates accessibility requirements or has not been managed with an accessibility-first mindset, you can check on your 508 compliance is by completing a thorough website accessibility test. You can lean more about how to test your website for accessibility in our article, “Accessibility & ADA Compliance Testing for Websites,” or you can hire a professional accessibility company to perform an accessibility audit for you.
An accessibility audit will inform you of accessibility errors and problems that exist on your website and can help you to determine the best path forward for remediating accessibility problems on your existing website or building a new accessible website.
Remediate Identified Issues
After completing your audit, you then need to have your website’s content manager(s) and developer(s) resolve any identified issues. Some accessibility problems are complex and may require thoughtful consideration into expected behavior and how to rework code in order to improve the website experience for people on various types of assistive technology. Other problems are relatively straightforward and easy to fix.
Because there is a large variance in the number of problems, organizational goals, and website sizes/complexity, remediation timelines may vary considerably. If your website is very old, has an outdated design, or is no longer achieving your other goals, it often makes sense to build a completely new accessible website, rather than investing in remediating your existing site.
Build a Culture of Accessibility at Your Organization
Maintaining accessibility on a website is an ongoing job, especially on sites that are not static and receive modifications to their content or design over time. Keeping your website 508 compliant should be everyone on your team’s job: it takes leadership from the top and responsibility from the bottom.
The best way to ensure ongoing 508 compliance is to build a culture of accessibility at your organization. Here are some ways that you can create a team that values accessibility and ensures that your website stays compliant:
- Draft an accessibility statement; share it with employees, customers, and vendors, and make it public on your website.
- Designate an internal accessibility champion or committee.
- Plan regular accessibility and WCAG training sessions and provide updates for everyone on the team as requirements change.
- Include all staff and volunteers in efforts.
- Create a plan for escalating accessibility issues as they arise.
- Schedule regular tests and compliance monitoring.
- Build a diverse and inclusive team.
Get Started Now
If your agency or organization needs help making your website more accessible or is planning to develop a new website that needs to be accessible to people of all abilities, please contact us. We are happy to speak to you directly and frequently respond to RFPs that are sent to us directly.
Equalize Digital’s team of accessibility experts has worked on many government-funded websites for government agencies, universities, and nonprofits and is experienced in delivering 508 compliant websites on budget and on schedule. We look forward to being your website accessibility partner.