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# Website Accessibility

Section 508 Compliance Testing: Overview and Checklist

Authored by Civic Plus Logo

CivicPlus

July 12, 2021
9 min

What is 508 Compliance?

The concept of website accessibility is ever-evolving as new types of technology emerge. An example of that is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was intended to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities. In 1986, that act was amended with Section 508 (29 U.S.C § 794 d), which created non-binding accessibility guidelines for some types of technology. With the growth of the internet, Section 508 was updated in 1998 and again in 2017.

The most recent guidelines in Section 508 apply only to federal agencies; however, they establish a strong legal precedent — non-governmental businesses and organizations would be wise to test their 508 compliance.

In this post, we’ll look at the benefits of Section 508 compliance testing, what it entails, and how to approach it.

What Are The Accessibility Standards for Section 508 Testing?

Section 508 accessibility standards are based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2. These guidelines state that digital properties must be:

Perceivable

  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content (such as images or embedded tables)
  • Provide alternatives for time-based content
  • Create content that can be presented in different ways
  • Structure content in a way that helps users see/hear it

Operable

  • Ensure all functionality is available via a keyboard
  • Provide enough time for people to read/use content
  • Refrain from designing content in a way that is known to trigger seizures
  • Provide structure and methods that help users navigate a site or page, locate content, and know where they are on a page or site

Understandable

  • Ensure text is readable/understandable
  • Design web pages to appear and operate as users expect
  • Help users avoid and correct mistakes

Robust

  • Maximize compatibility for current and future users, as well as assistive technologies.

WCAG 2 also defines conformance requirements and levels of conformance.

Does Section 508 Apply to Every Website?

Federal agencies and any organization that receives federal funding or has a federal contract must comply with Section 508. The guidelines apply to website content and other digital content such as mobile apps, PDFs, and emails.

Knowing that accessibility guidelines may undergo revision and expansion at any time, all organizations should conduct 508 compliance testing to ensure they’re prepared for what may come next. Besides, making digital content accessible has many tangible benefits.

Benefits of Section 508 Compliance Testing

Section 508 compliance testing may seem daunting, offering little to no return on investment. But Section 508 testing can help you:

Accommodate a wider audience

If your digital content isn’t accessible, you may be missing out on interactions with the one billion people in the world who have a disability. It’s a mistake for entities to assume that people with disabilities are not consumers or don’t have access to the same information that everyone else does.

Often, inaccessible websites are simply the result of failing to consider how people might interact with content, which is why 508 compliance testing is so important.

Avoid costly lawsuits

In a case that tested whether the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to non-governmental organizations, courts sided with the plaintiff — a blind man who could not access a pizza restaurant’s menu via the company’s website or app.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals did not weigh in on whether the app and website were ADA-compliant but instead found that those digital properties were considered places of “public accommodation” and,” therefore, should be accessible. ADA guidelines are separate from Section 508, but it’s reasonable to expect courts to apply the same logic when considering disability discrimination claims based on Section 508 compliance.

Improve search presence

Some features that improve accessibility — like alternative text for images and logical navigation — also help search engines understand and evaluate website content. Sites with good functionality and accessible content are likelier to rank well on search engine result pages.

Improve the overall user experience.

Just as improving accessibility can improve search rankings, it can also create a better user experience. Well-designed pages that make it easy to find information or action steps without many competing fonts or elements will improve the experience of all users.

What Types of Content Are Subject to Section 508 Compliance Testing?

Section 508 applies to content such as:

Website content

This applies more than just the words on a website — it encompasses images, graphics, headers, footers, calls to action, and forms. When reviewing content for 508 compliance, consider whether it’s responsive and displays well across all platforms and devices.

Software

For companies that make software, 508 compliance testing may involve looking for glitches or usability problems and ensuring users have options that improve accessibility, such as the ability to zoom in or configure visual and audio notifications.

Documents and PDFs

Documents and PDFs include internal and external digital content. Examples include warranties, policy statements, sales sheets, and marketing materials.

Spreadsheets and tables

Assistive reading technology interprets tables differently than a human website visitor would. Improving the accessibility of the information in a spreadsheet or table may involve reviewing coding in tables, formulas in spreadsheets, and reorganizing information.

Presentations, video, and audio

This content includes sales presentations, website carousels, product demos, and tutorials.

How to Test Section 508 Compliance

Following are the three types of 508 compliance testing.

Automated

This is 508 compliance testing conducted by a software platform.

Manual

This is live-user testing.

Hybrid

Hybrid testing is ideal — it involves a combination of 508 compliance testing software and human expertise to ensure the results of any software edit are not anomalies.

Section 508 Compliance Testing Checklist

Following are some best practices for getting started with 508 compliance testing.

Provide alternative content formats.

Help users access content by providing alternative formats — for example, Braille displays, audio, large font, and video.

Ensure your website supports assistive technologies.

Ideally, you should ask users of assistive technologies to interact with your site and offer feedback. Commonly used assistive technologies include JAWS (Job Access With Speech) and Tobii, an eye-tracking software that lets users navigate a site with eye movements.

Ensure your website is navigable with a keyboard.

Website navigation should not require the use of a mouse. Consider whether a person using a mouth-stick can interact with your site using only their keyboard. Making your website keyboard-accessible benefits all users because people may be accessing your site via devices other than a desktop computer and a mouse.

Follow WCAG color contrast guidelines.

Approximately 4.5 percent of the U.S. population has difficulty perceiving differences in hues. Content that lacks contrast may be difficult for some users to see. You can test your contrast and optimize accessibility using a free contrast-checking tool.

Avoid screen flickering

For people who have photosensitive epilepsy, flashing imagery or certain types of high-contrast patterns can trigger seizures. Some people without this condition may also react negatively to flashing lights, such as dizziness, migraine, or nausea. Avoid the use of flickering and flashing images in your content.

Remove time limits on content.

Ensure that users of all abilities have adequate time to interact with content such as rotating image carousels, scrolling content, or checkout processes.

Add descriptive alt text to all images.

Your content management system should allow you to add alt text for any image on your site. Keep in mind that alt text not only helps people using screen readers but also helps search engines understand the images on your site.

Enable users to skip over lists and logos.

People who don’t have the ability to scroll should be able to quickly jump past lists and logos to access the main page content.

Format links for accessibility

Assistive reading technologies may “read” through the links on a page as individual pieces, so simple call-to-action links — like “Read more” — don’t provide enough context for the user. Make links descriptive, such as “Read more about this product,” and don’t rely on color alone to highlight inline links.

Participate in ongoing accessibility training.

Keep up with the latest developments in digital accessibility by attending annual training sessions. You may also want to use the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) resources, such as user forums and working groups.

With training and a hybrid approach to 508 compliance testing, you can be confident that your digital properties are accessible to all users.

Monsido Can Help Your Website Comply With Section 508 Guidelines

508 compliance testing is an ongoing process, and you’ll want to partner with a company that understands how and when to conduct testing, maintain an audit history, and remediate any accessibility issues.

To support local government’s compliance needs, CivicPlus® partners with Monsido. Learn more about Monsido’s compliance solutions.

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Authored by Civic Plus Logo

CivicPlus

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