What is 508 compliant? Does my website need to be 508 compliant? How to I make my website 508 compliant?
These are common questions for small and medium sized businesses who have a presence on the web. Hopefully we can get to the bottom of this without too much confusion, and you will be ready to bring your site up to speed, or know that you’re good to go as you are.
First things first, what is 508 compliant?
508 compliant refers to Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Whereas the Rehabilitation Act and subsequent Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) cover interstate commerce, the Section 508 amendment specifically refers to electronic and information technology (EIT).
Under Section 508, which went into effect January 18, 2018, electronic and information technology (EIT) must be accessible to people with disabilities.
Is My Business Required to be 508 compliant?
All government agencies are required to be 508 compliant. Also, any business or agency that receives government funding (educational institutions, for example) must be compliant. (This is actually covered under Section 504 but the rules are basically the same.)
If your business does not fall into one of these two categories, you still may be required to be accessible. For instance, does your business provide services to government employees (job search, healthcare, etc.)? Are you a contractor working with federal, state or local government agencies? If so, you must be compliant.
Finally, if Section 508 (or 504) doesn’t apply to your business, the ADA probably does. According to the U.S. General Services Administration, “The Department of Justice (DOJ) says that ADA requires any person, business, or organization covered under the Act to communicate effectively about their programs, services, and activities. This includes information provided through your website.” (https://www.section508.gov/blog/do-section-508-accessibility-standards-apply-to-mywebsite)
So now that you know you probably need to be compliant, let’s look at how that’s done.
The WCAG documents explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Web “content” generally refers to the information in a web page or web application, including:
- natural information such as text, images, and sounds
- code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.
How to Make Your Website Compliant
Start your website compliance project by understanding what criteria qualifies for successful compliance. Read and understand WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).
Bookmark the Quick Reference Guide for ongoing use.
You may also want to run a quick audit of your site. Using the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool, you can see where you stand with regard to accessibility and compliance. This free web-based tool may help you establish your list of things to improve upon. It can be a little tricky to understand at first, but watch their intro video and see if it’s a tool that might benefit your company.
Check your site manually for design and structure.
- Look for use of H1, H2 and H3 tags. Are they being used logically from largest to smallest?
- Look for color contrast issues. Do you have a light font on a light background? If so, consider making your background a bit darker.
- Add Alt tags to all your images keeping the text concise and descriptive. (Remember, this can help with SEO too.)
- Add text alternatives for any audio or video stock you have on site.
Overall, make your site easy to navigate (which you should do anyway) with logical hierarchy and information flow. When it comes to the technical guidelines presented by WCAG 2.1, do your best to enhance or correct each of the main category elements. This will ensure you have taken reasonable steps to make your site as accessible as possible.