In the year 1973, Stephen John Brademas, an American educator and politician, sponsored The Rehabilitation Act. It aimed to facilitate investment and research programs for the empowerment of the differently abled people. There are five sections in the act. One of the sections entitled Section 508 focuses on making technology useful to the differently abled people.
Section 508 ensures that any technology (electronic or informational) that the federal government develops/maintains or manages is accessible to differently abled people. Organizations need to make their applications undergo Section 508 testing for stringent adherence. They may have to face lawsuits if their website does not fulfil the requirements.
Does it Apply to your Website?
Even though Section 508 guidelines do not apply on non-federal websites but based on Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act, the web content should be accessible to all the differently abled users. It states that federal agencies and organizations that the federal government funds should not show discrimination towards the differently abled users. However, non-federal websites also need Section 508 testing to increase their accessibility and user base.
The requirements of Section 508 compliance
There are numerous guidelines to make a website compliant with Section 508.
Below is a brief 508 compliance testing checklist, along with explanations about why these attributes matter-
Web pages must have a meaningful title that is also relevant to the content of the web page. It eliminates the need for a user with a physical disability to scroll down the page and read the entire content.
Image text alternatives
Every picture, illustration, and chart on a web page must have an Alt text attached to it. Visually impaired users use assistive technologies (Apple VoiceOver, ChromeVox and Google Talkback) to understand the content of a website. A screen reader reads the alt text to describe images and charts. In case of the unavailability of Alt text, a screen reader skips them, and a visually impaired user is unable to access it.
It implies that there must be a text equivalent to enumerate the non-text elements of a web page. Software programs that narrate the navigation buttons read the substitute text. It guides a visually impaired user to navigate to different web pages without difficulties.
Every web page must have essential headings: h1 h2, and h3 in their right sequence. The heading “h3” should only come after “h2”. It helps a visually impaired user to comprehend the content while using a screen reader.
The visual representation of images and text must have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1. The application should also provide complete freedom to set the colour and contrast for a web page.
A website should have options to resize the text according to the differently abled users’ preferences.
Keyboard access and visual focus
A user with motor disability must be able to navigate the website using a keyboard. It suggests that a website should not be completely mouse dependent.
If a web page has an electronic form, it must support assistive technologies. There should be directions and cues to access the field information, fill the field elements and complete the submission formalities. Moreover, there should be a search field that provides an option to search a field in a form. Lastly, there must be an option to retrieve information that does not require user vision. It helps a visually impaired user to fill online forms successfully.
Moving, Flashing, or Blinking Content
It states that the flash on a web page should at least have a frequency of 2 Hz. A high flicker may trigger users with photosensitive epilepsy. Therefore, it should not exceed the allotted limit. The maximum allotted limit is however, 55 Hz.
Multimedia (video, audio) alternatives
There should be a text alternative for all the multimedia content (videos and audios). It helps visually impaired users to access the content using assistive technology like JAWS (Job Access with Speech).
Section 508 Testing tools – Manual or Automated
Section 508 testing requires the integration of manual and automated testing. Organizations need manual testing to analyze issues that require analytical ability, creativity and decision making. It includes checking the suitable color combination and evaluating a user’s experience with a website. However, to check the functional requirements, automation is essential. There are numerous automated tools available in the market. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Tools include 508 checker, A-Tester, and a11y.css. Other tools include ARIA Validator, iOS Simulator, and Dragon.
Section 508 testing is essential for organizations to fulfil the legal requirements and prevent lawsuits. Following Section 508 guidelines can help organizations in making a website accessible to majority of people.