How to Make Your Website 508 Compliant
Whether you’re in government, healthcare, education, life sciences, or any other industry that receives federal funding, following 508 compliance requirements should be a priority for your website. This allows you to not only provide greater audience accessibility for all of your content, but also avoid potential legal issues which can occur when organizations are non-compliant with Section 508, as well as other related media laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act.
If you want to make your organization’s digital content accessible for as many people as possible, 508 compliance is a necessity and is often achieved through the process of remediating existing content.
While this is one of the best ways to guarantee your content is accessible, there are some steps you can take to get started on the process.
Here’s how to begin the process of making sure all of your customers, employees, and stakeholders can easily access your website’s content, regardless of ability or language.
What is 508 remediation?
508 remediation is a process of ensuring your organization’s websites, documents, and other digital content are compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The Rehabilitation Act was designed to ensure that digital content is easily accessible for people with disabilities, although digital accessibility is a broader principle that should include different language speakers as well.
How do I make my website 508 compliant?
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of all 508 compliance requirements for websites, if you want to make your website 508 compliant, this is a great place to start.
Ensure screen reader compatibility
One way to foster website accessibility is to enable screen reader compatibility. Screen readers are tools that allow people with visual impairments to understand the content on a computer screen, either with a voice synthesizer or through a braille display device.
To make your content as accessible as possible for those with visual impairments, make sure you appropriately structure and develop your website to optimize compatibility with screen reading technology.
Enable keyboard accessibility
Keyboard accessibility is another way to improve your website’s accessibility. Keyboard navigation allows people with low and partial vision, blind people, and those with motor-function disabilities to navigate a website with a keyboard, rather than a computer mouse.
Keyboard accessibility functions as an assistive technology, where those who can’t utilize a mouse to navigate a website can do so. For example, a person navigating a website via keyboard navigation may do so by pressing a keyboard’s arrow keys, plus the tab key.
Include Alternative (Alt) Text for visuals
Alt text is another component of web accessibility that meets 508 compliance standards. Alt text describes images or visuals on screen such as videos, logos, icons, graphs, and pictures, and it’s primarily designed for those with visual impairments who use screen readers.
Rather than simply describing an image in strictly literal terms — text stating, “…an image of x” — alt text should explain the meaning, or the “why,” of web content’s visuals.
Alt text should either clarify an image’s context, if necessary, or describe a visual that has no relevant context in the broader page:
- Alt text without context
- “Person feeding a dog.”
- Alt text with context
- “Dog owner feeding a dog a bowl of [pet food brand] kibble.”
If an image links out to a new destination, that should also be included in alt text.
Include transcripts and captions for audio and video content
Transcripts and captions are designed to make a website’s audio-visual content accessible, primarily for deaf people or those with hearing loss.
Transcripts and captions are also useful for hearing people who prefer to read a video’s transcript or captions instead of, or in addition to, audio. Transcripts and audio also help hearing people understand a video’s audio if the video is not in a language they understand.
When incorporating captions into your website, keep in mind that auto-generated captions are often inaccurate. It’s generally best to use human-generated captions to ensure optimal accessibility.
Keep accessibility in mind for visual design
Many visual elements on websites exist to communicate information so it’s important these elements are also accessible to all site visitors.
To accomplish this, there are many helpful guidelines around color, font choices, and more. It’s best to use high contrast between your site’s text and background. Don’t use light colors on a white background, or dark colors on a dark background.
You should also consider the readability of your typefaces, the use of white space, and font sizes.
These guidelines don’t strictly apply to those with visual impairments, visual accessibility can make your content more accessible to anyone.
If you’d like more information, check out more visual design accessibility tips.
Follow guidelines for flashing and flickering
Screen flickers or rapid, flashing lights can cause seizures in some people — including some who have epilepsy — and should be avoided. Websites must be designed to NOT flicker with a specified frequency higher than 2 hz and lower than 55 hz.
Don’t use unnecessary time limits
Some websites have time limits for performing specific actions, like filling out web forms. But these types of built-in limitations can inhibit users who might require more time, such as people with motor-function disabilities, visual or hearing impairments, and other challenges.
If a time limit is necessary, provide a warning to delay a time-out, so users can extend their time, if need be.
However, there are certain exceptions for when time extensions are not feasible (e.g., auctions, etc.).
Maintain accessibility through all translations/localizations of your site
Making your site available in different languages makes it accessible for a wider range of people. Localization and translation services exist for these purposes, helping modify your content to suit different languages and cultures.
As you translate and localize your website content, key accessibility features — alt text, navigation, captions, transcripts, and audio — must also work within the new languages.
It’s also important to keep HTML considerations in mind for potential screen readers. These considerations include the HTML “lang” attribute, which helps developers specify a page’s language content, plus for any inline elements and block elements where the language changes.
Not sure where to start? 508 remediation can help.
If you want to make your existing or new website more accessible, there’s no need to start from scratch. A partner like Dynamic Language can help audit your website to ensure it meets 508 remediation standards.
Need to localize your website? In addition to translation and localization services, Dynamic Language can make sure your site is accessible across each language.