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Knowing about Accessibility – How to Make a Software Section 508 Compliant?

As you can see, many lawsuits are being filed in relation to accessibility on the web world. So, for all website owners and administrators who are sharing information with the public, it is high time now to ensure conformity with Section 508 of Rehabilitation Act of 1973. One should also take into consideration the American Disabilities Act as well as the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) by the WWW Consortium. In this article, we are trying to discuss in a bit details about accessibility issues and how they relate to your software applications.

With increasing lawsuits against even small businesses to sue their websites which are not ADA compliant, business owners are now scrambling to make their online assets compliant with the Section 508 accessibility requirements. As Google also specified that accessibility is a key concern for search engine ranking also, being compliant become more and more important. There are many public information websites which had to shut down or redirect their traffic to other places due to accessibility issues on their pages. For retain businesses online and e-commerce sites, it could be a devastating experience to shut down due to accessibility noncompliance.

What to do for accessibility?

There is no doubt that the best approach for anyone running a website is to triage a noncompliant situation and come into the track. There are many tools and methods out there for the website and software owners to identify the issues which need immediate attention for improvement to be compliant.

As per the World Wide Web Consortium guideline “Web accessibility is all about the websites, software tools, and related technologies are designed, developed, and procured in a such a way that people with disabilities can also easily use them.” Web accessibility is a broader term which encompasses the needs of people with all kind of disabilities, including visual, auditory, speech, neurological, cognitive, and psychological disabilities.

Accessibility laws

The US Congress passed The Rehabilitation Act in 1973, which further prohibit any discrimination on the basis of disabilities to individuals in all programs related to the federal agencies. The later amendment of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act adds information and communications technology sector too by mandating those too to be accessible to individuals with disabilities, both for federal employees as well as the public.

In 1990, as the world wide web was fast emerging, US Congress passed another act named as Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA. This is more focused on the civil rights laws, which prohibits any discrimination against the disabled people at all public and private places. This is the reason why both your business and website/software need to be compliant.

Now, there are five distinct sessions or titles under ADA.

# Title 1 deal with the discrimination in terms of employment, and the Human Resources professionals may probably take care of it.

# Titles 3 & 4 of ADA are the ones which focus more on electronic communication, and this is where the website content has to be considered.

If you are planning to open a physical storefront, then Section #3 of the American with Disabilities Act may demand you to maintain some specific accessibility needs so that consumers of all sort can enter your business. One of the most common accessibility requirements you can see everywhere is the need for wheelchair access. All sort of businesses, including commercial real estate needs to ensure that such accessibility compliances are implemented for businesses.

Section 508 Compliance for software

When businesses are developing a software, you have to consider this also the same as above (a virtual doorway) to your business where you need to have wheelchair access and other accessibility features for the disabled. However, when it comes to the technological world of websites and software, the accessibility needs are different. You don’t have to make any accommodations for the physical access there, but need to follow some specific guidelines to ensure flawless virtual access.

The guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1), have three levels of conformance in terms of 508 compliance software and web applications as:

  1. Level A: To be Level A conform, a web page should meet all Level A criteria.
  2. Level AA: For this, web page or software should satisfy all Level A and Level AA criteria.
  3. Level AAA: As above, it should satisfy Level A, Level AA, Level AAA criteria.

Some of the primary rules under Section 508 for software compliance as below

1194.21(a) – While the software is designed to run on any system which has a keyboard as an input device, then all the functions should be executable from the keyboard. So, you need to ensure that there are no such functions which can only be accessed through the mouse.

To test the compliance, you need to test:

  • Installation of the software by using the keyboard only.
  • Perform all primary software tasks using the keyboard.
  • Check the user manual of the product for functionality and ensure that for all functions, there is access through keyboard alone. 

The above the law is only applicable to keyboard-enabled systems only. Another specific software application compliance regulation as below.

1194.21(b) – Any software application should not disable any activated features of other products identified as accessibility features as far as those features are developed according to the industry standards. In simpler terms, the systems or software you use must not disrupt any accessibility features of other products or OS. To determine compliance, you may follow the below steps.

  • Click on Start, and go to Settings and Control Panel. Click on the Accessibility Options and then activate all accessibility features. Ensure that you activate the MouseKeys, StickyKeys, and all other portions which should be working with the open application running.
  • Check the user manual of the software product for accessibility features. Enable all of them if available and make sure that they don’t impact the OS or other applications adversely in terms of accessibility features. 
  • Run the AT with software. Ensure that no AT features are overridden as the product being tested. 

There are many other subsidiary regulations too which the software developers and web applications developers need to be thorough with in order to ensure 508 conformity before you release your software application or website for public access.

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