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Section 508/WCAG

The Secret to Success is Access…

Is your website accessible to visitors with visual and physical impairments? You may have heard of Section 508 or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These are the standards created to make sites easier to use, and also easier to read, using assistive technologies such as JAWS or Windows Eyes reader for the visually impaired. It’s not required unless your site is a government site (.gov). However, creating your site to be compliant will serve your organization very well. The following benefits will be realized:

  • Approximately 20% of all users online have some type of visual or physical impairment that limits their ability to use a site (i.e., 10% of men are color blind).
  • Setting up an accessible site makes your site easier to find via Google and other search engines.
  • It is beneficial to all users because accessible sites are typically easier to use.
  • It’s the right thing to do.

Section 508 Compliance requires that the following guidelines are followed:

  1. Provide Alternative Text: Alternative text provides a textual replacement for images. Screen readers cannot do anything with images, but they can read the alternative text.
  2. Provide Alternatives to Time-Based Media: Include captions or auditory descriptions.
  3. Compatible: When pages use scripting languages to display content, the information provided by the script must also be available with functional text that can be read by assistive technologies.   
  4. Distinguishable Graphics: Use color combinations with sufficient contrast for color blind users, any information conveyed with color should also be available without color.
  5. Frames: Frames must be titled with text to facilitate frame identification and navigation.
  6. Give Users Enough Time to Read and Use Content: For timed responses, users should be given an opportunity to indicate they require more time.
  7. Navigable: Users should be able to skip repetitive navigation links.
  8. Seizures: Ensure your design does not include animations that could cause seizures.
  9. Readable: Use clear and simple language that does not require an associated style sheet.
  10. Text Links: Redundant text links must be provided for each active region of a server side image map.
  11. Input Assistance: Provide guidance for forms and other input areas to ensure errors are not made.
  12. Data Tables: Markup must be used to associate data cells and header cells for data tables that have two or more logical levels of row or column headers.
  13. Image Maps: Client-side should be used versus server-side images.
  14. Data Tables: Row and column headers shall be identified for tables.
  15. Plug-Ins or Applets: If a plug-in or applet is required to interpret page content, a link to download the relevant  plug-in or applet is also required on the page which requires it.
  16. Text-Only Version: A text-only version of a page must be provided if there is no other way of making a page compliant.

What is WCAG? Is it the same as Section 508?

No, WCAG and Section 508 are different. WCAG is an acronym that stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines are published by the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The goal of WCAG is to make web-based content more accessible to a wider variety of people. These guideslines are primarily intended for those with disabilities using assistive technologies, but also include all user agents (a "user agent" can be a web browser, a mobile phone, a screen reader etc.).

The most notable difference between WCAG and Section 508 is that WCAG is a set of "recommendations" for websites, while Section 508 is a law that applies to all Federal Agencies. Whether your site is a .gov site or not, it is a great idea to make sure your content is accessible for all. 

NetReach's Award-Winning Experience Building Section 508/WCAG Compliant Sites

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), a national non-profit organization founded in the 1940s, currently serves nearly 180,000 kindergarten through graduate level+ students with its one-of-a-kind collection of digitally recorded CD-based textbooks and novels. The organization wanted to develop a web-based resource to help teachers find audiobooks, lesson plans, activities, and other resources to facilitate the teaching of listening skills in the classroom and to communicate to them how these resources translate into success.

Won in a competitive Request for Proposal (RFP) process, RFB&D selected NetReach to design, develop, and deliver the Section 508/WCAG compliant Learning Through Listening website. NetReach ensured the project would be approached using best practices; including successfully implementing an information/resource-based website that meets Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act and the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The site would later be honored with the League of American Communications Professionals 2008 Bronze spotlight award.

RFB&D later also tasked NetReach with building fully compliant "Memory" games intended for visually impaired users. In the traditional Memory game, a user flips over cards until s/he finds a match (visually). For RFB&D, NetReach designed a game where visually impaired users could scroll through a set of cards using a screenreader and keyboard strokes. After selecting a card, an audio file would play, and the user would locate matches based on the various audio files s/he would hear.  

In addition to the RFB&D sites, NetReach has also consulted on a number of .gov sites to ensure their compliance.

Resources

Section 508 Guidelines

Section 508 Developer Links