Section 508 Compliance
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It’s important for every organization and business to make their content and information accessible to all audiences. But some federal organizations and federally-affiliated entities are required by law to make their content 508 compliant. This means ensuring your information and content are accessible to as many people as possible, particularly those with disabilities.

So, what is 508 compliance? How do you make your content accessible, and what does that look like in practice?

Here, we’ll answer some common questions about 508 compliance and 508 remediation, so you can understand how to make your organization’s materials optimally accessible.

How do you make documents and websites more accessible?

The concept of accessible content can be boiled down to intentional clarity in the content’s language and structure.

For example, clear language and structure allow visually impaired people who use screen reader technology to understand and navigate a document or website.

In making content accessible for those with disabilities, it’s best to make your content clear, navigable, and understandable for all, regardless of language and ability.

Here are some steps you can take to make content more accessible.

Use proper headings

Use proper section headings — such as Headings 1, 2, and 3 — in documents and on websites, rather than resizing fonts manually. This helps people using alternative navigation methods, like screen readers, to gain a clear understanding of structure and broader context.

Use Alternative (Alt) Text

To make your content accessible to visually impaired and blind audiences, alt text is a necessity. Rather than just describing imagery, alt text describes imagery within the broader context of a document or website, explaining the meaning of images or visual cues.

For example, when describing the Facebook logo, alt text would read, “Visit our Facebook page,” rather than, “Logo with a blue F.”

Use clear language

Using clear, digestible language in your content is a low-impact, effective way to make your content accessible. To do this, avoid using jargon, acronyms, metaphors, and abbreviations to eliminate confusion.

Use legible fonts and font sizes

Legible fonts are crucial for making text easy to read and understand.

Use sans-serif fonts, like Verdana, Helvetica, and Arial for visual clarity. Avoid using overly thin, “lightweight” fonts and overly bold, “heavyweight” fonts, since both of these font styles are harder to read.

Font sizes are also important. It’s recommended to use 12-point fonts or higher, since these are legible by most. But it’s also helpful to have large-print versions of text — 16-point Arial or higher — available, too.

Use recommended contrast ratio

The color contrast between your text and website/document backgrounds should meet the recommended 4:5:1 ratio. Use high-contrast colors between text and backgrounds and avoid using light-colored texts over light backgrounds, or dark-colored text over dark backgrounds. If you’re not sure the ratio of your colors, you can use this tool.

Seek out 508 remediation to ensure you meet accessibility standards

Work with a partner for 508 remediation services. 508 document remediation ensures that your documents, website, and other content meets accessibility standards.

This process is the most thorough and effective way to make your content accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

Read more about making your website 508 compliant

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What is Section 508?

Section 508 was a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, requiring federal agencies to make electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities.

This amendment was the first civil rights act to expand federal protections for disabled people. It was a part of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which intended to expand employment opportunities in the US workforce.

Section 508 mandates that agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public equitable and comparable access to information. Federal agencies are required to make information and communications technology, or ICT, available to those with disabilities.
This applies not only to federal employees but also those that use any documents, training materials, software, and more published by a federal agency. This means that all federal agencies must comply with Section 508’s accessibility requirements.

Updated in 2018, Section 508 now addresses more recent foreign policies and technological innovations. The 2018 updates were created to align US guidelines with established accessibility standards, including those issued by the European Commission and the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0).

Some additional recent laws related to accessibility include:

Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1996

Section 255 requires that telecommunications products and services — wireless telephones, computers with modems, fax machines, etc. — to be readily and easily accessible.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA helps secure equal opportunities for those with disabilities.

21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)

This 2010 act requires advanced communications services and products — e.g., text messaging, email, instant messaging, and video communications — to be accessible to those with disabilities.

These laws  and all subsequent acts and amendments, exist to level the playing field for those with disabilities and to create a more inclusive landscape.

What is 508 remediation?

508 remediation is the process of making one’s websites, documents, information and resources readily accessible for people with disabilities, in accordance with Section 508. It requires that organizations meet general accessibility standards with documents, websites, mobile apps, and hardware.

The remediation process can include finding and adjusting any issues that an organization’s websites may have. This might include adding alt text, subtitles, and captioning (including localization), as well as adjusting color contrast, adding identification marks for all tables, and reducing flash rates of any moving elements.

What is required to be 508 compliant?

In order for your organization or agency to be 508 compliant, you’ll need to follow the WCAG 2.0.

Below are some key recommendations to enable optimal accessibility:

Keyboard accessibility

Enabling keyboard access allows people with visual impairments and motor-function disabilities to navigate site without a computer mouse, via their keyboard.

Alternative (Alt) text

Alt text describes the meaning of imagery/visuals on a website for computer users, and is helpful for blind people or those with low and partial vision.

High-contrast color choices

Ensure that text/ backgrounds/interactive elements use high-contrast colors, to help those with and without visual impairments read and navigate your site more easily.

Font choices

Use legible fonts — neither too thin nor too bold — and font sizes of 12-point Arial and up.

Transcriptions and captions for audio and video content

These resources are useful for hearing-impaired people, non-native language speakers, and those who just prefer to use captioning with video content.

Screen reader capabilities

Screen readers are tools that allow people with visual impairments or blindness to read and navigate web content.

No time limits

Time limits for performing certain tasks or forms can inhibit those with motor difficulties, or those who need extra time, from using websites.

Proper document formatting

Ensure your websites and documents are properly formatted (e.g., use Headings 1, 2, or 3), so that those with disabilities can easily navigate and understand your content’s structure.

Who needs to comply with Section 508 accessibility standards?

Federal agencies — as well as any organizations affiliated with, in business with, or receiving federal funding — are required to comply with Section 508 accessibility requirements. This can include contractors, financial institutions, healthcare providers, and others.

Does 508 compliance apply to state agencies?

While Section 508 standards most apply to the federal government, the implications can vary for state agencies. Many states have passed legislation requiring information and communications technology (ICT) accessibility.

Here’s a list of the requirements for each state

What content needs to be compliant with 508 standards?

All ICT must meet accessibility standards, according to the ICT Accessibility Policy. ICT is any technology that facilitates access to information or data.

ICT includes, but is not limited to:

  • Internet websites
  • Software and operating systems
  • Webinars
  • Call centers and tech support
  • Online training
  • PDFs
  • User guides

What are the risks of non-compliance with Section 508?

Failure to comply with Section 508 not only negatively impacts other people, but it can also affect your organization.

Non-508 compliant organizations may miss out on some of the benefits of having accessible content. But they also risk serious consequences, which may include:

  • Reduced loyalty and user base, due to repeatedly letting audience down
  • Missing out on top talent
  • Lack of innovation and investment from your industry
  • Legal issues, including lawsuits and fines
  • Negative press
  • Increased cost of reworking content

Accessibility is an important feature of a thriving organization and an equitable society. When you implement accessibility, you are both widening your audience and opening up doors for those seeking fair and equal access.

How can you get started with 508 remediation?

Complying with 508 standards is your responsibility, both to your organization and to society at large. If you’re considering remediating your existing content, there are plenty of guides and checklists available, so you can get a head start making your documents and information 508 compliant.

Although testing for 508 compliance can be done with your internal team, unless you have a compliance expert on your staff, you risk overlooking crucial compliance details, which can lead to accessibility gaps.

The best option for ensuring your organization’s content is 508 compliant is to work with a reliable partner. They’ll help make sure that your website, information, and business documents are compliant with accessibility standards and laws.

Working with a partner can also help you implement strategies for creating future content, laying the foundation for an accessible library of materials available to a wider audience.

Start remediating your content with Dynamic Language.

At Dynamic Language, our team of experts understands what goes into making your organization fully 508 compliant, and we’re equipped to successfully remediate your materials.

We enjoy creating lasting relationships with our partners. When you work with us, you can rest assured that your content will be accessible to all.

We at Dynamic Language are expressly committed to expanding your global reach, with scalable technologies, multilingual talent, and industry-leading customer service.

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