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Understanding Section 508 Compliance: What You Need to Know

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Government agencies and businesses that work with government agencies are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of web accessibility and Section 508 compliance, yet many remain unsure of what it actually means, why they should conform to the standards and how to get into compliance.  In an era where the internet is integral to conducting business, maintaining records, and enabling communication, it is essential for government agencies to understand their responsibilities when it comes to creating accessible digital experiences for people with disabilities. 

Section 508 Defined

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended in 1998, includes Section 508 which requires federal agencies to ensure that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) they “develop, procure, maintain, or use allows employees with disabilities and individuals with disabilities who are members of the public to have access to and use of information and data,” states the DOJ.  ICT includes websites, apps, operating systems, videos and more.

Benefits of Ensuring Your Website is Accessible and Adheres to Section 508 Compliance

In today’s digital age, it is important that government websites are accessible to everyone regardless of ability. 61 million people in the U.S. and 1 billion people worldwide have a disability.  Accessibility features like closed captions for videos, alternative text for images and keyboard-friendly navigation not only help visually impaired and physically disabled users, but also improve the overall user experience for everyone. In addition, Section 508 Compliance can also help prevent legal and financial penalties.

Who Benefits from a Section 508 Compliant Accessible Website?

The shorter answer is everyone. Because a site designed to be usable by people with disabilities creates a better user experience for everyone. Specifically, a section 508 compliant site creates a frictionless experience for those with disabilities of vision, cognition, mobility, hearing as well as changes in abilities associated with aging, people who are not native speakers of the language, those with slow internet connections and more.

Here are some types of disabilities that are helped by an ADA compliant website.

Smiling girl with autism

  • ADHD
  • Dyslexia
  • Color blindness
  • Trembling hands
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Loss of motor skills
  • Low vision
  • Short term memory loss
  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • And many other common impairments

A Section 508 Compliant Accessible Website Supports Non-Disabled People As Well

Designing for accessibility yields benefits for everyone.  An accessible website helps older adults who have changes in abilities associated with aging (low vision, trembling hands, short term memory loss), people who are not native speakers of the language (they can read the captions on a video), those with slow internet connections (they can turn off loading of images and videos and read the alt text on images and the transcripts of videos), those with “situational limitations” (people in bright sunlight, people in a quiet or loud space) and more.

Steps to Getting a Site Section 508 Compliant

Accessibility Audit: The first step to getting a site Section 508 compliant is a thorough evaluation of your site’s features and functions, as well as user testing to ensure it’s easy to navigate and understand for all users. The site also needs to be evaluated for is compatibility with assistive technologies, like screen readers and text-to-speech tools.  This thorough evaluation needs to be done through an accessibility audit conducted by a skilled and trained accessibility professional.  AI cannot do this task.  AI can only identify about 30% of accessibility violations and often throws false positives and false negatives.

Remediation: The next step is to have your site remediated, meaning have the accessibility violations fixed, by a trained accessibility professional.

Accessibility Keyboard

Training:  Training content creators and those who update the website on the basics of making new content accessible is essential. 

Ongoing Monitoring:  Finally, it’s important to have ongoing monitoring and testing to ensure your site remains compliant over time. A plan to have the site audited one a month, once a quarter, bi-annually or annually will assure that your site stays in compliance and usable by all.

Want to see if your website is Section 508 compliant accessible? Book a complimentary accessibility review.

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Denise Páne <br><span>CEO & Founder</span>

Denise Páne
CEO & Founder

Denise is an Accredited Accessibility Expert with a lifetime of experience with people with disabilities and over 2 decades of experience at the helm of her branding and accessible web design agency, Access Design Studio. She is a passionate outdoorswoman and bold adventurer in life and business.

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