Making sense of Section 508

Pasquale  Scerbo

May 15, 2008

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We often hear about a web site being 508 Compliant or needing to be 508 Compliant, but how many of us really understand the true meaning of Section 508? Sure, we all know that being 508 compliant means that your site is accessible by people with disabilities, but what exactly is involved in making this happen?

What is Section 508?
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require that Federal agencies make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 lists 1194.22 guidelines specifically for web-based intranet and internet applications based on access guidelines developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), that help promote accessibility.

What that means is that Web Accessibility involves the ability of a web page to be read and understood by anyone, using adaptive technologies where necessary.

Populations to consider include:

  • Blind people using assistive technology such as Braille or voice screen readers
  • People with weak vision who may not be using assistive technology
  • Deaf people
  • Color-blind people
  • People with motor control weakness

Making your site 508 Compliant
The good news is that you don’t have to redo your website from scratch in order to be Section 508 compliant. Here are some easy-to-implement tips to follow:

  • DO include descriptive ALT tags for all images which have meaning or content
  • DO use relative font size
  • DO use high-contrast text and background colors
  • DO include text links in addition to or in place of image-based navigation
  • DO NOT place text over distracting background images
  • DO NOT use color as the sole means of conveying information
  • DO NOT use animated gifs, Flash presentations, or Java Applets that cause the screen to flicker with a frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz (These can cause seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy)
  • DO NOT force users to click a button or link rapidly, or to fill out a form in a short period of time
  • DO NOT use frames of any sort

Priority Levels of Section 508

Priority 1
A Web content developer must satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it impossible to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement for some groups to be able to use Web documents.

Priority 2
A web content developer should satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers to accessing Web documents.

Priority 3
A web content developer may address this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it somewhat difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will improve access to Web documents.

Conformance Level ‘A’: all Priority 1 Checkpoints are satisfied;
Conformance Level ‘AA’: All Priority 1 and 2 checkpoints are satisfied;
Conformance Level ‘AAA’: all Priority 1, 2, and 3 checkpoints are satisfied

Further reading

If you’d like to get more information on the subject, these sites provide a deeper understanding of Section 508 compliance: