As we know, Section 508 is lately becoming more stringent as the websites and online resources needed to be now made compliant for easy access to individuals with disabilities too. The development, procurement, and maintenance of all ICT (Information and Communications Technology) must be made by considering individual users with disabilities in mind irrespective of them being federal government employees or the public.
Now, it is the U.S. Access Board mandates the standards for Section 508 compliance. In this article, we will try to clear some basic doubts people have about Section 508 compliance and explore ways to remediate the PDF and electronic content to ensure compliance.
More things to know about Section 508
Is Section 508 the same as Reasonable Accommodation?
It is noted that Section 508 gets confused with the Reasonable Accommodation, i.e., Section 501. In fact, Section 508 refers to Information and Communication Technology, which covers all the tools and equipment which people access for job-related information.
On the other hand, Reasonable Accommodation or Section 501 is about an individual’s special needs due to their disabilities. Reasonable Accommodation focuses more on removing the barriers people with disabilities have at places.
Both of these; however, focus on people with disabilities, which the providers need to identify as an opportunity to reach to more potential customers by making your website and web content open to all. Making it mandatory, government-related agencies and vendors should first ensure Section 508 compliance, which should be further extended to business websites, e-com site, etc.
ICT of Information and Communications Technology is the system or equipment which is used to create and access data and information. Major ICTs include the following:
- Personal computer, tablets, and laptops
- Smartphones, normal phones, and other mobile devices for communications.
- Television, video players.
- Websites, both internet-based and intranet-based.
- PDF documents
- On-line videos and training materials.
- Teleconferencing or webinar tools and websites.
- Call center for technical support.
- Website remote access tools.
- Operating systems and application software
- User guides and manuals for tools and software
- Printer, copiers, fax machines, and other network-connected devices.
- Lab equipment and accessories etc.
Why should ICT be made accessible?
As by now, you may know what is section 508? It is noted that there is a high possibility that many of those who access the EPA information have some sort of disabilities. It is also possible that a person may also be temporarily disabled due to various reasons. So, EPA makes ICT accessible to all so that the EPA information can be beneficial for everyone, to be done so as per the law.
So, when you create, maintain, or procure content, always think of Section 508 first.
- Consider if your service or product is IT.
- If you confirm its ICT, then Section 508 is applicable.
- Identify the standards which are applicable to your product or service.
- Write down the essential 508 requirements and work plans.
- Once done, test to verify full conformity with Section 508 before accepting changes.
- Always maintain touch with the contractors and developers through the acquisition and entire life cycle to ensure ongoing Section 508 conformity.
Section 508 compliant documents and accessibility
One major standard set forth by the Section 508 accessibility regulation is that all the electronic documents to be made accessible to all, including those with disabilities. Considering online communications, the most commonly used format for documentation in Adobe PDF, but the compliance also includes Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. too.
Ensuring compliance with the established accessibility guidelines will make sure that the electronic documents are made available to all. This is an opportunity for web content owners as they can reach to more people and businesses can broaden their target audience by including those with disabilities too. Disability coverage includes, but not limited to, low vision or blindness, temporary hearing loss to permanent deafness, cognitive disabilities, learning issues, limited movement or combination of these. The provided guidelines are also to ensure that the electronic documents are also keeping in pace with the technological advancements.
The primary objective of PDF format for documents is to maintain the uniformity of appearance across the operating systems and various file viewers. Similarly, Section 508 also establishes a standard for all documents by ensuring accessibility to all irrespective of physical and cognitive abilities.
Those who are doing or planning to do business with Federal agencies will be affected the most with the need for Section 508 compliance; however, in effect, all are affected. If any vendors or contractors submit documents which are not compliant with Section 508, then they may get rejected right away. Now, disabled consumers also expect business websites and other online channels to provide accessible services through various online tools.
The format tag structure, which represents all the structural and visual components of a document, will provide information about the assistive technologies use for it. In order to check Section 508 compliance, one should review all the pages in the document and also modify the tag structure to ensure that all given elements conform to the accessibility guidelines. Doing proper quality control (QC) of assistive technologies is essential while trying to remediate the document for 508 compliance. So, document remediation demands human involvement even while using accessibility tools.
Here’s a checklist from the US Department of Health and Human Services. In order to be 508 compliance, the electronic documents should pass the given requirements. The latest addition to this list was back in February or 2018. Here, we have listed only the major sections, but there are more specific requirements under each section to consider.
- Requirements for PDFs
- Requirements for the headings
- Requirements for different colors
- Requirements for accessing links
- Requirements for the creation of tables
- Requirements for putting compliant images.
- Requirements for the lists
- Requirements for the forms etc.
For providers, it is far better to comply with 508 requirements than facing the lawsuits later. So, it is better to think and prepare for Section 508 compliance. The expert service providers for 508 compliance now offer a fine balance of human involved quality control along with accessibility tools to make sure that the documents are fully accessible and technically 508 compliant.