People with disabilities have the right to access websites, mobile sites, and other forms of information technology, according to Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Unfortunately, not every business or organization complies with the accessibility standards outlined in Section 508. Many entities don’t include the support features needed to eliminate the bottlenecks that individuals with disability experience when using technology.
But, failure to adhere to Section 508 guidelines can have dire consequences; both financially and legally. And organizations outside the United States aren’t off the hook, either.
The World Wide Web Consortium’s implementation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 & 2.1), have also been adopted by many countries and international organizations around the globe.
Bearing this in mind, business owners, website owners and government funded organizations need to get on board with accessibility; not only because accessibility lawsuits are on the rise, but also because it’s the right thing to do.
Overview of Section 508
Places of public accommodation must consider people with disabilities when developing, procuring, maintaining, and using ICT. The resources should be accessible to every citizen, whether employees of such entities or not.
Employees with disabilities should be able to work on devices such as computers, telephones, and office equipment. Public entities should ease access to online resources such as courses and other information to people with disabilities.
There must also be fairness when citizens apply for jobs and competitive opportunities. Whether with a disability or not, a person looking for information about a program should access it like everybody else. The same applies when filling online forms.
Section 508 defines ICT as any system or equipment used to create, access, duplicate, or convert information and data. Some of them include computers, phones, televisions, DVD players, copiers, intranet sites, PDFs, webinars, and many more.
- ICT resources in commercial and public entities must be available to people with disabilities conveniently
- ICT includes systems that create, access, duplicate, or convert information and data
- Online platforms such as websites are part of places of public accommodation
If you are in charge of a public or commercial organization, Section 508 compliance standards are your business. Here are some accessibility issues you should know.
1. Rules of Section 508 Compliance Standards
Public entities and commercial establishments must avail information and programs available electronically to users with disabilities. Employees should be able to perform technological functions without feeling disadvantaged.
Job applicants with disabilities should also compete with other candidates for opportunities equitably. Therefore, places of public accommodation should ease access to programs and the application process for all.
Section 508 also insists on fairness for all employees, and people with disabilities should enjoy equal privileges and benefits as other workers. Public agencies, therefore, should provide the necessary electronic devices and software for people of all abilities to access information.
2. Content for Public Websites
Owners of sites that offer services and information to the public must keep accessibility to people with disabilities in mind.
The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers this advice, “Accessibility is not an optional requirement for your websites, apps and kiosks. It is a federal law. Non-compliance to ADA’s regulations leaves your company liable to user driven lawsuits.
But, more than the need to reduce liability, it is the right thing to do. More than 1 Billion persons with disabilities are not your customers because they cannot consume the content on your website. These include, but are not limited to those with physical, vision and hearing challenges, and military veterans.”
The United States Access Board released the Revised 508 Standards in 2018. The roadmap enhances ICT accessibility and usability to individuals with disabilities.
Content in websites must be:
Website users should perceive all information, content, and interfaces without difficulty. These include people with hearing and vision impairment as well as cognitive disorders.
Users of all abilities should understand the content offered on the site. You must present the information in a user-readable format.
User interfaces must be easy to operate for everyone, regardless of their abilities. For this reason, incorporating support features like assistive technology and keyboard-only navigation is essential.
Electronic material presented to website users must meet the current standards. It should be adaptable to keep pace with accessibility developments like innovations in assistive technologies.
The 2018 refresh shifts the focus from products to functions. The standards for devices like laptops and smartphones that serve similar purposes are now combined. In this case you expect the regulations for a task like browsing the internet to be comparable.
3. Testing for Section 508 Compliance
A full audit by an experienced internet accessibility agency can detect most of the compliance issues within a website. It involves an in-depth examination of the site by an expert as well as with automatic scans.
In this process it is essential to invite an individual with a disability to interact with the website using assistive tools. Their experience should inform if you’ve met the accessibility requirements or you need to work on the site further. Learn more about accessibility testing here.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is a sophisticated part of the law that affects website management. It provides some of the most prevalent accessibility regulations in the United States, and website owners should take note.
Managers of business and public websites should implement Section 508 standards to avoid user-driven lawsuits, and more importantly, to enhance fairness in access to information.
Failure to conform to accessibility requirements can land your business in legal hot water, and cost your business precious time and money.