Development and 508 Compliance: Moving Toward a More Inclusive Internet

A few weeks ago, I applied for a job posting and saw part of the description require knowledge of 508 compliance. I figured, I should probably look that up just in case I get asked about that. Well after reading about it, I also thought it would make a great article to write about since many of us out there may not be aware of 508 compliance or only have a vague idea of it means.

508 Compliance is a reference to Section 508, a 1998 amendment to the United States Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology to make new opportunities for those with disabilities and to encourage development of technology that will assist in achieving this goal. While the law is mandated to all webpages and other IT procured by the Federal Government, there are reasons to make every webpage 508 compliant and tools to do just that. And as a side note, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a wide-reaching law that applies to the private sector as well. It is not unimaginable for a future legal case to challenge the topic of compliance for all webpages.

I think the reason to make non-government webpages 508 compliant should go without saying, but I’ll state the obvious anyway: people with disabilities may view your webpage. And as we continue to progress to a more and more inclusive society, our technology should reflect this same attitude. Here are some helpful considerations and tools to make the Internet a place for everyone.

Design Elements

Design elements such as color, text, and navigation are some of the most important that come to mind when designing webpages to be 508 compliant. Color can be easily overlooked because we can only see with our own individual eyes, not someone else’s. I recommend using color-effectively as a method for those that are color-blind. Adding labels or icons to color-coded fields can help resolve color-based accessibility issues. Text is another element to keep in mind when designing for compliance. Larger font options, text that doesn’t disappear when the style sheets are turned off, and an accessible PDF file can all assist. Users should have control over navigation. If the design or organization of your webpage includes repetitive navigation links, you should provide a method for skipping those.

Color-coded fields or sections can limit accessibility for color blind or visually impaired users.

Add-Ons Elements

Add-On Elements are those such as non-text features. Things such as images, videos, and even plug-ins. All non-text elements should be provided with a text equivalent. Closed captioning is text included for hearing impaired added to audio or video files. While it has been common practice for television and film for decades, this can be both time consuming and technologically frustrating for your team to do themselves. There are companies you can outsource the capability to if it’s feasible. Graphs and charts should also be accompanied with alternative text. Plug-ins should be available for download. If your webpage requires a plug-in or other application, you should display a link to a page where users can download it for full functionality.

Enable Closed Caption automatically or manually to ensure equal accessibility for hearing impaired viewers.

Technical Elements

Flashing lights and alerts may sometimes seem like a great place. However, consider reducing the risk of optically-induced seizures. Anything that blinks or flashes within a certain range could have such a consequence.

Users who have motor disabilities or use screen readers can be dependent on keyboard only visual indicators, which need to be programmatically indicated as well. For example, links, buttons or input fields can be controlled with the tab, arrow, or other keys rather than a mouse click to increase access for all. They can also order navigation by jumping through headers, landmarks, page sections, or paragraphs and page elements.

Developers should also consider alternate input devices suitable for a variety of different situations are available to computer users with disabilities. There are several types of alternate input devices from mouth sticks to voice recognition software and alternate keyboards. Alternate input devices are crucial in order to give people with physical and motor disabilities full access to the internet.

Testing Tools

Testing tools are a great way to ensure your webpage is 508 compliant. By outsourcing the heavy lifting to a third party you can focus more on your product and leave the finer details to someone else. I’ve included a few tools here to assist you in making the Internet a more inclusive and welcome place.

The A11Y Compliance Platform

The A11Y Compliance Platform is offered through the Bureau of Internet Accessibility. The platform gives tools, reports and services to help companies and organizations maintain and defend the web site’s accessibility and integrity. The standards and guidelines that are used in this platform include Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, Section 508 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Accessibility Checker

Accessibility Checker, created by CKSource, is a software program that allows you to inspect the accessibility level of content that is created in CKEditor.

Total Validator

Total Validator is a validation program that comes with more than just one tool to evaluate web accessibility. The program can be run from your desktop computer, command line, or via Google Chrome or Firefox add-ons. It assists by generating reports of these five evaluation results, and reports are supported in HTML format.