Section 508 Compliance Testing: Overview and Checklist

What is 508 Compliance?

The concept of website accessibility is ever-evolving, as new types of technology emerge. An example of that is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was intended to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities. In 1986, that act was amended with Section 508 (29 U.S.C § 794 d), which created non-binding accessibility guidelines for some types of technology. With the growth of the internet, Section 508 was updated in 1998, and again in 2017.

The most recent guidelines in Section 508 apply only to federal agencies; however, they establish a strong legal precedent — non-governmental businesses and organizations would be wise to test their 508 compliance.

In this post, we’ll look at the benefits of Section 508 compliance testing, what it entails, and how to approach it.

What Are The Accessibility Standards for Section 508 Testing?

Section 508 accessibility standards are based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2. These guidelines state that digital properties must be:

Perceivable

  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content (such as images, or embedded tables)
  • Provide alternatives for time-based content
  • Create content that can be presented in different ways
  • Structure content in a way that helps users see/hear it

Operable

  • Ensure all functionality is available via a keyboard
  • Provide enough time for people to read/use content
  • Refrain from designing content in a way that is known to trigger seizures
  • Provide structure and methods that help users to navigate a site or page, locate content, and know where they are on a page or site

Understandable

  • Ensure text is readable/understandable
  • Design web pages to appear and operate as users expect
  • Help users avoid and correct mistakes

Robust

  • Maximize compatibility for current and future users, as well as assistive technologies
WCAG 2 also defines conformance requirements and levels of conformance.

 

Does Section 508 Apply to Every Website?

Federal agencies and any organization that receives federal funding or has a federal contract must comply with Section 508. And the guidelines apply not just to website content, but to other digital content such as mobile apps, PDFs, and emails.

Knowing that accessibility guidelines may undergo revision and expansion at any time, all organizations would be wise to conduct 508 compliance testing to ensure they’re prepared for what may come next. Besides, making digital content accessible has many tangible benefits.

Benefits of Section 508 Compliance Testing

Section 508 compliance testing may seem like a daunting task that offers little to no return on investment. But Section 508 testing can help you: 

Accommodate a wider audience

If your digital content isn’t accessible, you may be missing out on interactions with the 1 billion people in the world who have a disability. It’s a mistake for organizations to assume that people with disabilities are not consumers, or don’t need access to the same information that everyone else does.

Often, inaccessible websites are simply the result of failing to consider all the ways people might interact with content, which is why 508 compliance testing is so important.

Avoid costly lawsuits

In a case that tested whether the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to non-governmental organizations, courts sided with the plaintiff — a blind man who could not access a pizza restaurant’s digital menu via the company’s website or app.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals did not weigh-in on whether the app and website were ADA-compliant but instead found that those digital properties were considered places of “public accommodation” and therefore should be accessible. ADA guidelines are separate from Section 508, but it’s reasonable to expect courts would apply the same logic when considering disability discrimination claims based on Section 508 compliance.

Improve search presence

Some of the features that improve accessibility — like alternative text for images, and logical navigation — also help search engines understand and evaluate website content. Sites with good functionality and accessible content are more likely to rank well in search engine result pages.

Improve the overall user experience

Just as improving accessibility can improve search rankings, it can also create a better user experience. Well designed pages that make it easy to find information or action steps, without a lot of competing fonts or elements, will improve the experience of all users.

What Types of Content Are Subject to Section 508 Compliance Testing?

Section 508 applies to content such as:

Website content

This applies more than just the words on a website — it encompasses images, graphics, headers, footers, calls to action, and forms. When reviewing content for 508 compliance, it’s important to consider whether it’s responsive and displays well across all platforms and devices.

Software

For companies that make software, 508 compliance testing may involve looking for glitches or useability problems, along with ensuring users have options that improve accessibility, such as the ability to zoom in, or to configure visual and audio notifications. 

Documents and PDFs

Documents and PDFs include internal and external digital content. Examples include warranties, policy statements, sales sheets, and marketing materials.

Spreadsheets and tables

Assistive reading technology interprets tables differently than a human website visitor would. Improving the accessibility of the information contained in a spreadsheet or table may involve reviewing coding in tables, formulas in spreadsheets, and reorganizing information.

Presentations, video & audio

This type of content includes sales presentations, website carousels, product demos, and tutorials.

How to Test Section 508 Compliance

Following are the three types of 508 compliance testing.

Automated

This is 508 compliance testing conducted by a software platform.

Manual

This is live-user testing.

Hybrid

Hybrid testing is ideal — it involves a combination of 508 compliance testing software and human expertise, to ensure the results of any software edit are not anomalies.

Section 508 Compliance Testing Checklist

Following are some best practices for getting started with 508 compliance testing.

Provide alternative content formats

Help users access content by providing alternative formats — for example, Braille displays, audio, large font, and video.

Ensure your website supports assistive technologies

Ideally, you should ask users of assistive technologies to interact with your site and offer feedback. Commonly used assistive technologies include JAWS (Job Access With Speech), and Tobii, an eye-tracking software that lets users navigate a site with eye movements.

Ensure your website is navigable with a keyboard

Website navigation should not require the use of a mouse. Consider whether a person using a mouth-stick would be able to interact with your site using only their keyboard. Making your website keyboard-accessible benefits all users, because people may be accessing your site via devices other than a desktop computer and a mouse.

Follow WCAG color contrast guidelines

Approximately 4.5% of the U.S. population has difficulty perceiving differences in hues. Content that lacks contrast may be difficult for some users to see. You can test your contrast and optimize accessibility using a free contrast-checking tool.

Avoid screen flickering

For people who have photosensitive epilepsy, flashing imagery or certain types of high-contrast patterns can trigger seizures. Some people without this condition may also have negative reactions to flashing lights, such as dizziness, migraine, or nausea. Avoid the use of flickering and flashing images in your content.

Remove time limits on content

Ensure that users of all abilities have adequate time to interact with content such as rotating image carousels, scrolling content, or checkout processes.

Add descriptive alt text to all images

Your content management system should allow you to add alt text for any image on your site. Keep in mind that alt text not only helps people using screen readers, it also helps search engines understand the images on your site.

Enable users to skip over lists and logos

People who don’t have the ability to scroll should be able to quickly jump past lists and logos to access the main page content.

Format links for accessibility

Assistive reading technologies may “read” through the links on a page as individual pieces, so simple call-to-action links — like “Read more” — don’t provide enough context for the user. Make links descriptive, such as “Read more about this product,” and don’t rely on color alone to highlight inline links.

Participate in ongoing accessibility training

Keep up with the latest developments in digital accessibility by attending annual training sessions. You may also want to use resources provided by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), such as user forums and working groups.

With training, and a hybrid approach to 508 compliance testing, you can be confident that your digital properties are accessible to all users.

Monsido Can Help Your Website Comply With Section 508 Guidelines

508 compliance testing is an ongoing process, and you’ll want to partner with a company that understands how and when to conduct testing, how to maintain an audit history, and how to remediate any accessibility issues.

Monsido’s software and compliance expertise helps organizations maintain ongoing accessibility and develop best practices for digital content management. Learn more about Monsido’s compliance solutions.