If you want to be sure you’re meeting the needs of everyone in your website audience, you must take steps to ensure your site is 508 compliant. The compliance standards are set by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires federal agencies to provide software and website accessibility to anyone with disabilities. When your website is 508 compliant, it means it is accessible to all users. Your site is compatible with assistive technology, such as screen readers.
The following agencies that receive federal funding are required to be 508 compliant:
- Federally funded non-profit organizations
- Government agencies
- Public K through 12 schools
- Public higher education institutions
Even if you do not fall into one of these categories, it is wise to choose to be 508 compliant voluntarily. Not doing so increases the risk that someone in your customer base will not be able to use your website or any of the features it offers.
My daughter was born blind and faced challenges using the web and technology every single day. It’s not fair to her, and it’s not legal. I am part of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) group with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and am an advocate for accessibility. If you feel your web site is not compliant and want immediate help, you can hire SEO Inc to make sure you are following best practices for Web Site Accessibility!
That’s why I want to talk to you about how you can check to see if your current website meets 508 compliance guidelines and if you discover that it does not, what you can do to fix it. But before we get into that, let’s talk about the bigger picture for a second.
Many companies don’t take action unless they believe it’s going to provide a return on their investment. 508 compliance is one of those things that often gets overlooked just because the ROI is hard to see. The truth is only a small percentage of your web visitors will be blind. However, many of them will be low vision. Even more of them will be using small screens in bright environments. By following guidelines for people with low vision, you are addressing the fact that everyone is visually impaired sometimes.
Only a small percentage of your visitors will be dealing with dyslexia. But even the most intelligent of people run into text they don’t understand sometimes. By following guidelines set forth for dyslexic readers, your non-dyslexic readers will thank you. Think about the person who is standing in an airport line at midnight with a small child on their shoulder and a phone in the other hand trying to read instructions on where they can find the rental car kiosk. They will appreciate your efforts just as much as a dyslexic user.
Only a small portion of your visitors are dealing with physical disabilities. But everyone has run into buttons and sliders that are so small it takes multiple attempts to click them. And everyone has encountered a website that doesn’t work well with touch screen devices. If you take the time to design your site for those with physical disabilities, you’ll create websites that are easier for everyone to use.
How to Make Your Website 508 Compliant
Blindness and Low-Vision
For every non-text element, you should provide a text equivalent via “alt,” “longdesc” in the site’s HTML code, or in element content. In-element content should place text on the image, or use a caption below the image to describe what the non-text element is, for people who are blind or low-vision.
Be sure to provide transcripts for video and structure content using HTML5. Build the website for keyboard use only. Write descriptive links and headings. Do not force mouse or screen use or rely on text size and placement for structure. Design your content as though the person is using a screen reader to navigate your website.
Make sure to use proper color contrast and readable font size. Use a combination of color, shapes, and text while following a linear and logical layout. Ensure buttons and notifications are included in context. Make sure that text flows and remains visible when your writing is magnified to 200%.
Do not rely on color as a differentiating factor. While the majority of people are familiar with color-coded alerts and traffic lights, those who are colorblind, mainly suffering from red and green color blindness may not be able to tell the difference.
Instead of relying on red and green to indicate stop and go or good and evil, count on another system such as check marks and Xs to show availability. You can make the check marks green and the Xs red to enhance the overall design for users, but the added layer ensures that even those who are color blind will still be able to interpret the information correctly.
- Use images and diagrams to demonstrate concepts in the text.
- Align text to the left. Keep layouts consistent and clean.
- Keep content as short and as simple as possible.
- Allow users to change the contrast between the text and the background.
- Avoid using large blocks of text and using underline, italics, or all caps.
- Don’t too much information in one place.
- Use simple colors and write in plain English.
- Avoid writing overly complex sentences and the use of idioms and figures of speech.
- Make your buttons descriptive
- Build consistent and straightforward layouts. Keep them clean and avoid complexity or clutter.
Physical or Motor Disabilities
- Make sure your actions are large and clickable.
- Give plenty of space in the form fields.
- Design your website for keyboard or speech use only. Do not force mouse use.
- Design for use with mobile and touch screens. Provide shortcuts.
- Avoid using short time out windows.
Deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Write in plain English.
- Provide transcripts for videos or use subtitles.
- Break up content with images, videos, and subheadings, so they are not forced to read through large blocks of text.
- Use a linear and logical layout.
- Allow users to ask for their preferred communication when making appointments or communicating in any way. This ensures the telephone is not the only means of contact.
Testing 508 Compliance
There are a few tools online you can use to check and see if your website is 508 compliant. SortSite from PowerMapper will not only check Section 508 with 55 tests over 15 guidelines, but it will also check for WCAG 1.0 and 2.0 with 118 tests and 86 tests respectively.
There’s also a full list of tools available at the W3C, though they do not endorse any specific product.
Building your website with these compliance standards in mind keeps it accessible to everyone, regardless of their level of ability. All of this can be done with good SEO in mind too – and chances are you’re already using good alt text and link descriptions to improve that anyway.
If you have any questions or concerns about how to make sure your website is 508 compliant, get in touch with us today. We’d be glad to schedule an evaluation and see how we can help improve your site ranking, too!