Many of the business owners and website owners have heard about Section 508 compliance, but wondering what it actually means.  Basically, Section 508 is an addendum to the Rehabilitation Act came into practice in the year 1973, which had further undergone various refreshes over the last couple of decades. The latest update of it was done earlier this year. The guidelines of 508 standards are to ensure that all the communications and public information which are covered under Section 508 are fully accessible to the users with various kinds of disabilities too. This explanation confused many as to what it means to a business? How may it affect business-customer interactions? And ultimately, how can you ensure 508 compliance? Let’s explore the answers.

Section 508 explained

As discussed above, Section 508 was added to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in the year 1998. The purpose of this act is that it requires all kinds of Federal agencies to ensure that their electronic and IT sources are accessible to people with disabilities. The refresh of this rule back in January 2017 also updated the guidelines for accessibility and the requirement for information communication technology (ICT). The guidelines are updated for the telecommunications sector also, and the Section 255 guidelines are also better aligned to reflect the latest innovations in communication technology. These guidelines have an impact on all the federal agencies, vendors, contractors, and partners operating in the USA or other countries.

Section 508 is a compilation of many laws, which prohibit any discrimination against those who are living with disabilities. Considering communications, the three major laws under Section 508 are:

  • ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act, it prohibits any sort of discrimination against people with disabilities.
  • Section 255 (Communications Act) which mandates all telecommunication services and products to be accessible and usable to individuals with disabilities.
  • The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act 2010, which mandates all communications products and services to be fully accessible to people having disabilities.

Who should be compliant?

The Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is not only applicable to the federal agencies, vendors, and associates but could have an impact on the companies which does business directly or indirectly with the federal agencies. Consider this, many of the private contractors, financial companies, healthcare providers, legal organizations, and a wide range of industries may come under this category. So, the long-term impact is that almost everyone who is dealing with public information may have to be compliant with Section 508. If you are not sure whether you are compliant or not, then it is advisable to get the service of an expert to audit it.

What all documents come under Section 508?

Any digital information and communications initiated by a company falling under the jurisdiction of Section 508 must create and share only compliant website content, computer software, email content, gaming or entertainment systems, applications, and doc or PDF version of resources. The PDF files also many need 508 remediations to make it readable by screen readers.

In any case, achieving complete compliance of Section 508 may be a quite complicated and time-consuming endeavor to it all by your own. There could be many people in an organization responsible for communication and documentation covered by 508 compliance needs, and the contractors and vendors also may need to be compliant. So, a comprehensive audit requires good skills and knowledge of the business process.

In order to effectively ensure accessibility needs, you need first to consider it a reassuring opportunity than counting it as a risk. You may try and find ways to transfer your entire documentation, culture, and processes in a compliant manner. While accessibility could be ingrained in the culture of your organization, it becomes easy to predict the opportunities it can bring and try to avoid any non-compliant communications.

Ensuring Section 508 compliance for business websites

Each average American now owns at least three devices connected to the internet as their personal computers, smartphones, tablets, or any other digital gadget. Consumers of all kind largely rely on their digital experiences while considering brands or products or services. Either buying or buying decisions are now made online. One thing many providers tend to forget is that a considerable size of these individuals who access the internet are with disabilities.

So, for any organization maintaining a website for business, a mobile app, or other digital technology interfaces to interact with the general public, accessibility compliance is a mandatory need now. A website is tagged as accessible only when all the steps are completed in order to make sure that there are no barriers which may prevent accessibility to disabled individuals.

As disabilities may affect the ways how people interact with websites and other online content, web accessibility may account for all alternative methods using technologies. This covers everything like keyboard input methods to screen readers and also various types of web browsers, specialized software applications, and hardware as switches. Web accessibility may also consider those who use the conventional methods to access content online but face barriers like various fonts, color contrast, which makes it hard for them to read the content when enlarging fonts or to understand the video content which doesn’t have captions, etc.

To become compliant, you can take many steps as using a WCAG validator, which is a tool to check the compliance. However, if such a checker is not identifying any barrier on your site, you have to find out more ways to find remedies. Once if the non-compliances are identified, then you have to get a qualified and experienced web accessibility service to partner with. This needs to be carefully done as only a provider with a proven track record can effectively take up your compliance needs.

They will first do a manual and tool-based audit of your site by testing all its functions in light of various environments. The auditors will also guide you through the remediation process in order to make sure that all aspects of your website conform to the accessibility standards as specified by Section 508 and subsidiary regulations. Once if it is achieved, these agencies may also provide monitoring service to check for compliance consistently.

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