Section 508 Compliance Requirements for Websites

This quick guide will help you understand how to make your website Section 508 compliant. We will look at what section 508 is and who it applies to, the benefits of Section 508 compliance, and how best to test for it.

What is Section 508?

Section 508 (29 U.S.C. § 794d) is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires the federal government to procure, maintain and use information and communications technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities.

ICT includes online training, PDFs, websites, mobile apps, and software, among other electronic technology, including hardware such as computers.

In a 2017 refresh, the U.S. Access Board published a final rule updating accessibility requirements to incorporate the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA:

“For Section 508-covered ICT, all covered Web and non-Web content and software—including, for example, Web sites, intranets, word processing documents, portable document format documents, and project management software” to conform with WCAG 2.0 AA.

Although WCAG 2.1 AA is not currently required, I recommend integrating this standard into any testing, development, and/or remediation.

Accounting for 2.1 AA is a best practice and highly advantageous. You will go above and beyond the current minimum standards and be in compliance when and if 2.1 AA is included in a future amendment.

WCAG 2.0 AA vs. 2.1 AA Difference

WCAG 2.0 AA has 38 success criteria. 2.1 includes all of 2.0 AA’s 38 success criteria but adds 12 additional to bring the total to 50.

In effect, 2.1 works on top of WCAG 2; nothing has been undone with 2.0.

Website Conformance

Whether you’re creating a new website or remediating an existing one, you should have an expert developer incorporate all of WCAG 2.0 (or 2.1) AA success criteria, which is the standard degree of website conformance.

Benefits of Section 508 Compliance

Section 508 is currently a requirement for all federal agencies and federal contractors to ensure that their information and communications technology meet accessibility standards and does not apply to private businesses or individual entities. However, in the future, Section 508 could become a compliance model for private enterprises, so for any organization that takes accessibility seriously, it is worth looking into.

Technology plays a massive part in most of our daily lives, even more so for people with disabilities. It is estimated that one in five Americans is affected by a disability that impacts their daily life; there are over a million legally blind people in the United States, and 28 million who are hearing impaired. Not only is providing equal access to your site the decent thing to do, but it can also help grow your business. In 2018 the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that Americans with disabilities had discretionary spending of around $175 billion. Ensuring that your Section 508 compliant and accessible to those with disabilities could add huge growth to your business.

Another benefit of meeting Section 508 compliance is that you can sell products to the federal government. As it purchases over 100 billion dollars in electronic and information technology each year by being conforming to 508 standards, you are in a prime position to take advantage of selling your services or products to them.

The advantages of Section 508 website compliance aren’t just to those users with disabilities; the changes you make on your site can benefit everyone.

Can You Be Exempt from Section 508 Compliance Testing?

Section 508 gives limited exemption according to the Ginger-Cohen Act of 1996 for national security systems. These are systems that are used for cryptologic activities, intelligence, military command, and weaponry.

How to Test for Section 508 Compliance

508 compliance testing shouldn’t be treated lightly and should be left to the experts. There is a certain amount of testing that you can carry out with accessibility testing tools and by manually checking that you are compliant if you have access to screen readers and other assistive technology. However, going DIY will, in all likelihood, result in you missing many of the accessibility requirements that an expert service would find. In addition, if you do find issues with your sites, will you be able to fix them?

The bottom line is that due to the complexities involved in testing for 508 compliance, for best results, use a trusted service.

There are three primary initial testing components to ensure your website is conformant with WCAG success criteria and thus compliant with Section 508.

Automated Scans

Automated scans are tremendously helpful as you begin testing. They instantly catch and flag about 25% of accessibility issues, reducing human error in audits, and speeding up the time of an audit.

A handful of the issues scans catch is critical for accessibility.

Besides the 25% limitation, one weakness of scans is they can issue false negatives, thus clearing your website of a particular issue that still remains.

All scans need human review.

Manual Audits

Manual audits involve accessibility experts, examining all primary URLs and screens on your website, and accounting for all WCAG success criteria.

If any issues are found where elements/components/content are not in conformance, they are identified in a report.

During an audit, your website will be tested for keyboard navigability as well as screen reader compatibility. Also, your code and content will be evaluated.

Manual audits involve several hours of review.

User Testing

User testing primarily entails people with disabilities – typically including but certainly not limited to blind or visually impaired users – going through your website’s primary user flows and checking for any practical barriers or encumbrances.

For example, user testing may reveal an incompatibility with the Microsoft Edge browser that isn’t found with Google Chrome or Firefox.

User testing usually uncovers practical issues that are not found in a manual audit and thus provides an effective two-tier net system to ensure excellent accessibility and usability.

Section 508 Compliance Website Services

It’s important to contract with a reputable agency or vendor when making your website compliant with Section 508.

Essential Accessibility has been helping clients with their accessibility requirements for 12 years. We are here to support and guide you in becoming compliant with the law.

If you have any questions or would like a price quote on your website or app’s accessibility, feel free to email me at kris@accessible.org.