The Importance of Section 508 Accessibility Compliance

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The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended by Congress in 1998 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Although it's only required for Federal agencies, Section 508 accessibility should be crucial to all businesses because unavailable information hinders the ability to acquire and utilize technology quickly and easily. Section 508 was legislated to dismiss obstacles in information technology, present new freedoms for individuals with disabilities, and fortify development of technologies that will help accomplish these goals. The General Services Administration has been appointed the test of educating federal employees and cast the infrastructure essential to aid Section 508 compliance. Section 508 compliance can be assessed through government acquisition and also has detailed standards to which products can be adapted.

The Importance of Section 508 Accessibility

As all public places should be accessible to all citizens, so should the web. The US Department of Justice deemed the Internet is, in fact, acknowledged as a place of public accommodation. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), one may not discriminate against persons with disabilities. The ADA requires all places of "public accommodation and services available therein" to be accessible. Although there is nothing in Section 508 that requires private websites to comply unless they are receiving federal funds or under contract with a federal agency, not complying with Section 508 is like blatantly not having handicap accessible services. Companies funded or contracted by federal agencies are bound to Section 508 compliance because, according to the ADA, otherwise doing so would be violating federal law.

Affirmed by the US Department of Health & Human Services, 10% (28,000,000) of the population are deaf or hearing impaired, 11,400,000 people have visual conditions not correctable by glasses and 1,100,000 people are legally blind. Businesses shouldn't just comply with Section 508 because it may be required, they should comply because it's the obvious, right thing to do.

Section 508 Accessibility Standards and Techniques

A portion of standards for Section 508 accessibility:

Videos or Multimedia Products - Captioning or video descriptors for multimedia products is required and must have a toggle function.

Telecommunications Products - Accessibility is required for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. This entails compatible technology for hearing aids, TTYs and facilitated listening devices.

Internet Information and Applications - Text labels for accessing web graphics by the visually impaired is required to apply refreshable Braille displays and screen readers.

Software Applications and Operating Systems - Required accessibility for persons visually impaired through usage of alternative keyboard navigation.

As technology advances as will the standards and (as a consequence) the techniques for Section 508 compliance. There are multiple techniques for testing Section 508 standards. There is a Web Accessibility Toolbar available from Vision Australia and the Paciello Group. The toolbar consists of options such as Disable CSS, Toggle Images and Contrast Analyzer. Additionally, browsers' basic functionality can contribute to Section 508 accessibility. Testing web pages with images disabled, large font, and various color schemes can be helpful in assessing what persons with disabilities will experience. Another beneficial analysis to perform would be to make sure the web page is easily accessible by only the keyboard. As using a mouse might not be an option for someone with disabilities, functionality of a keyboard becomes crucial when navigating the Internet. Downloading a trial screen reader to evaluate what a web page would sound like if spoken is an effective experiment to confirm that the content would sound correct.

There are many businesses still left to comply with Section 508 accessibility. Although businesses not contracted by federal agency aren't vulnerable to compliance lawsuits, the principle of the matter is that individuals with disabilities aren't benefiting from it. Section 508 compliance is crucial to the welfare of people with disabilities. As if living in a world that isn't built for them isn't hard enough, abiding by Section 508 can make accessing every day resources a little bit easier.

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This article was published on 2010/11/10