Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Access for All: Section 508 Web Compliance

Ah, the joy of plowing through the legal prose to figure out how to build or retrofit a website! Said no one ever (at least that’s how the kids put it these days). Today is your lucky day, because we at Brockett Creative Group have gone over the law so that you don’t have to…

What is Section 508?

Section 508 (aka § 1194) is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and is designed to remove barriers to information technology – including the web – for people with disabilities. For those of us living and/or working in New York, bear in mind that the Empire State adopted these standards in 1999. (To see if your state has adopted accessibility standards, and to learn what they are, click here.) Most specifications were devised for people with vision impairments, many of whom use assistive technology readers to translate web pages and communicate their content to the user. Web pages, web applications, and all attached files on an intranet or the Internet are subject to this amendment.

Am I Legally Obligated to Comply?

If you are a federal or New York State agency, you bet you are! Other agencies, organizations, and businesses that must comply are those receiving federal or New York State funds, or are under contract with a federal or NYS agency. Basically, if you deal with the government on any sort of business level, your websites fall under Section 508.

Military command, weaponry, intelligence, and cryptologic activities are the only areas exempt from Section 508.

So, If I Don’t Have to Comply, I Don’t Need to Worry about It, Right?

I definitely wouldn’t go that far. Nearly a quarter of the United States’ population has a disability – some obvious and some not. You have a website so that you can communicate your message to the broadest possible audience and reach people who are interested in what you have to offer. Think of what you’ve invested in your website (in both financial capital and human resources); do you really want to keep 19% of Americans from accessing that? No, you do not.

Okay! What’s Included in Section 508?

I’m not going to lie to you: this part may be boring, but it’s good for reference. Skip ahead to the next heading to learn how we figure out if your website is 508 compliant or not. If you’re sticking with this section, go ahead and get a cup of coffee or a 5-Hour Energy. It’s okay, I’ll wait.

Ready? Here are the Section 508 Web Standards… 

  1. There must be a text equivalent for every non-text element such as photos and video. Alt-tags are a great example of text equivalent.
  2. Equivalent alternatives for multimedia presentations must be synched with the presentations. For example, YouTube generates text for videos that are uploaded, which then scrolls at the bottom of the video, basically in synch to what is happening on the screen.
  3. All information conveyed using color must be made available without color context or markup. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t bother with colorful charts. You can still create them, just make sure that you have enough contrast among colors so that a user can differentiate the information with shades of gray.
  4. Documents must be organized so that they are readable without the use of a style sheet. In other words, the copy should read on the page so it makes logical sense – no freestyle bouncing around!
  5. Redundant text links must be provided for each active region of a server-side image map. Basically, you use descriptive links for each region of an image map so that an assistive reader can translate it.
  6. Client-side image maps must be provided in place of server-side image maps except where regions cannot be defined with an available geometric shape. The same method used in “e” applies here, so describe away!
  7. Row and column headers must be identified for data tables. Without clear identification, an assistive reader will not be able to read the headers (readers do not pick up bold or italicized text).
  8. Markup must be used to associate data cells and header cells for data tables that have two or more logical levels of row or column headers. This is the same as item “g.”
  9. Frames need to be titled with text that facilitates frame identification and navigation. Provide a title for the frame, indicating its purpose so a reader can communicate that to the user.
  10. Pages must be designed to avoid the screen from flickering with a frequency of greater than 2Hz and lower than 55Hz.
  11. Text-only pages with equivalent information and functionality must be provided when compliance cannot be reached in another manner. Text rules over all when it comes to 508 compliance!
  12. For pages using scripts for content or interface elements, the information provided by the script must be identified with functional text that can be read by assistive technology.
  13. When a page requires an applet, plug-in, or other application to interpret information, the page must provide a link to a plug-in or applet that complies with (a) through (l) of this list.
  14. For E-forms designed for online completion, the form must allow people using assistive technology to access the information, field elements, and functionality required for completion and submission of the form, including directions and cues.
  15. A method allowing users to skip repetitive navigation links must be provided.
  16. For timed responses, the user must be alerted and given sufficient time to indicate that they need more time.

 You can find examples of compliance pass/fail here.

How in the World Do I Find and Fix Compliance Issues?

After reading that list with your website in mind, you may be thinking of trading in your coffee for a whiskey, but there’s no need! At Brockett, we frequently run 508 Compliance Scans for our clients.

508 Compliance Scans:
  • Identify elements that do not have the required alternative text;
  • Indicate where the option to skip repetitive navigation is needed;
  • Ensures that color-coded information has enough contrast;
  • Detects where tags are needed so that assistive technology will work;
  • Indicate whether or not the site is difficult for users with learning disabilities to navigate;
  • Much, much more…

Yikes! I Need Help with This…

Brockett Creative Group has the technology to run a compliance scan on your website and provide you with a report that will allow you to fix any issues. Your website may not be required to comply with Section 508, but without it, millions of people are out of your message’s reach.

Call (315) 797-5088 or email us to learn how we can help your website be as accessible as possible.

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