Section 508 compliance now stands synonymous to the Federal law of accessibility compliance, which mandates all the websites and content to be accessible also to people with disabilities. The law ideally covers a wide range of issues related to supporting those who are with various kinds of disabilities to get easy access to public information.
Statistics show that about 20% of Americans live with some kinds of disability, which affects their daily life and how they perceive information. About half of them have severe disabilities. So, alongside the need to be Section 508 compliant, you are also losing a big opportunity in terms of reaching to more people and getting more page views from the potential audience if you don’t focus on accessibility.
Whether you are working for federal government agencies or associated or in the private sector, Section 508 Compliance and the best accessibility practices for users must be met before designing and developing any web content. In this article, we will have an overview of the major issues related to 508 Compliance and how ideal web development teams effectively navigate them for their best benefits.
Table of Contents
The concept of 508 compliance
As we know by now, Section 508 is an amendment to the Federal Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is a law that mandates all electronic and information technology elements developed, procured, and used by Federal government be easily accessible to all including people with various kinds of disabilities. Therefore 508 compliance also involves creating websites which can be used by those who have limited vision, deafness or partial hearing, seizure disorders, and other physical disabilities.
There are many ways through which websites can be made compliant with 508 for users with disabilities. Here are some primary features to be noted for 508 compliance:
Closed captioning means including a test to video or audio files by keeping the hearing-impaired people in mind. This is largely used for movies, TV, and short videos for many years now, by providing a word by word transcript. As it is an intensive process to create text captions manually, now the tools like auto-generated captions as offered by YouTube, etc. are much useful. However, such captioning error-prone and requires manual editing. There are many service providers now which offer closed captioning services to videos and podcasts. You can enable the closed captions manually or automatically.
Screen reader compliance
All websites need to have in-built ability to access with screen readers. Those who have a visual impairment, cognitive disabilities, and learning problems use such screen readers to read the web page content. There are many screen readers available, which can convert the digital text to speech. The users can pair screen readers with spreadsheets, documents, and operating systems.
The website creators considering information on 508 Compliance should also note that the screen readers usually process the text differently. These applications will follow the text in a linear method than accessing the macro views, which demands a unique way of navigating through the content quickly. You need to learn the nature of screen readers first to prepare text accordingly.
The users who are suffering from motor-neuron disabilities use keyboard-based indicators, which also needed to be indicated programmatically. This mandate programmatic indication of browser focuses on specifying where the interactions need to occur for the assistive technologies. Say, for example, the buttons, links, or input fields need to be entered or controlled with the use of keyboard keys like tab key, arrow key, or other assigned keys than using a mouse.
By default, “Tab” key can be used to toggle between the links to let users find the content they need. They can also effective navigate through toggling between the headers, page sections, landmarks, paragraphs, and various page elements. Tab navigation will let people with disabilities who use the keyboard to navigate easily and quickly. The skip navigation links will also let the keyboard users avoid the repetitive content as mega navigation and go straight to the main content or section of a web page.
Alt Text for images
All the images on a web page need to have a descriptive and meaning alt text, which helps the screen readers to interpret the content of the image to visually impaired people. A meaningful alt text for images will give proper context to the images. Ensure that the alt text is made descriptive for users to understand easily. Descriptive alt texts will not only serve the purpose of Section 508 compliance, but it will help with the SEO value of the page too.
The Google search engine crawlers also cannot view the images, but access the alt text to understand the meaning of the image. On providing proper alt text to images, you will also get the benefits of ranking on top of the search engine result pages too. Similar to the alt text for images, alternative text is needed for videos too to allow the screen readers to describe the content of a video embedded to a web page.
Color schemes and contrast
The designers may easily overlook colors as an accessibility element. They may tend to assign some colors unconsciously with the perceptions like red means an error etc. For those who are with visual impairments; this color code may create problems. So, to be 508 compliant, it is important to add icons or labels too to any color-code fields or appropriate content elements to resolve any accessibility issues.
You can also think creatively to use color palette alternatives also to resolve this issue. Many of those who suffer from visual impairment may need a particular degree of a contract between the background color and text colors to read the content on the screen. It is also noted that some color combination or screen flicker elements may cause seizure also in people with disorders. Pages may be designed at a frequency more than 2Hz to 55Hz in order to avoid any screen flickering.
Some other key elements to consider in web designing and development for accessibility compliance are avoiding any block zoon, time out for certain user actions, etc. A professional web design/development provider with knowledge of accessibility and compliance needs will be able to consider all these while creating content for web pages.