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Top 10 Requirements for 508 Compliance and WCAG 2.1 Accessible Websites

by | Oct 28, 2021 | 508 Compliance, IT Modernization, Website Modernization | 0 comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed many changes in our everyday lives. We have spent more and more time on the Internet becoming increasingly aware of what digital presence means and how important it is to be able to do your business online without any obstacles. This pandemic has revealed that many websites are created to enable access to the average user, but not so much when it comes to users with certain disabilities.  

Over 48 million individuals in the United States have hearing problems, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center together with the New Hampshire University published the results from their study in 2019 saying that seven million individuals in the country have a vision disability. Over 61 million individuals in the U.S. have some form of disability. So, offering a website that is fully accessible increases the number of visitors and provides value for the entire audience.   

Creating a website that is accessible isn’t just about increasing a company’s visibility and audience. Companies can face legal consequences if they don’t comply with legislation that ensures equal access for everyone. The number of lawsuits against organizations over digital accessibility for individuals with disabilities is on the rise. Compared to the previous year with the first half of 2021, there is an increase of 64% in lawsuits alleging that websites, digital videos, and applications are inaccessible for individuals with different disabilities. A report from UsableNet.Inc predicts over 4,000 lawsuits for 2021. An evaluation done of the accessibility of homepages on the world’s top million websites showed that 97% of websites had accessibility issues. Luckily, there are strictly defined requirements that help companies increase their website’s accessibility.  

Web accessibility is governed by several civic and federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 508, and guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). 

What does 508 compliance mean? 

In 1998, an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was made and titled Section 508. This act prohibits discrimination based on disability, while Section 508 extends this to electronic information federal agencies offer to the public. The idea was to eliminate the barriers individuals with disabilities might have in information technology and ensure equal access to information despite differences in abilities. Even though Section 508 was designed to govern website accessibility within the federal sector, it is now widely accepted that organizations that receive certain forms of government funding or cooperation with the government should comply with this law.  

So, 508 compliance means that all the information and components of the website are easily accessible to individuals with disabilities. 

What does WCAG 2.1 mean? 

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1) were developed from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to help organizations increase their web accessibility and are used as recommendations for web designers. These standards are regarded as the best means to make a website accessible. Three different levels of guidelines are developed upon the four principles of web accessibility. These guidelines ensure that a website is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust 

 

Top 10 Requirements for Building an Accessible Website 

Web accessibility involves a wide range of disabilities, such as: visual, auditory, speech, physical, neurological, cognitive, learning and language disabilities. Although the following requirements should meet and address most of the issues with accessibility, building a fully accessible website for all types and degrees of disabilities is almost impossible. However, building web content according to the following requirements will make the website more user-friendly for the general public.  

 

  1. Always provide text alternative to non-text content.
    Adding captions to video and audio content make it understandable for individuals with hearing impairments. This also makes it more user-friendly by allowing the user to access these types of files even in quiet places or in loud environments. Providing captions for live videos and audio descriptions for video content achieves the next level of website accessibility.
    Image showing how to add caption to video
    Image from https://www.techsmith.com/blog/add-captions-subtitles-video/ 
  2. Add alternative image text for individuals with visual disabilities.
    Providing a text description for an image or video provides context to images and videos for users that can’t see. These texts need to be accurate and descriptive, as well as readable, so that they can be read from the screen by software. 
  3. Use sufficient contrast between text and the background in order to make navigation, reading and interaction easier for users.
    This requirement doesn’t apply to just text and images, but also to links, buttons and iconsIt is very important to use good colors as well as to ensure proper color allocation in order to make the content clear and understandable for users with low contrast sensitivity and readable for individuals with visual impairments. According to the WCAG guidelineswebsite will be more accessible if visuals on the site do not rely only on color. By solely relying on color, the content would be completely inaccessible for colorblind individuals.
    Image showing importance of high contrast in images that contain text
  4. Enable the use of Text-to-speech technology.
    Text-to-speech technology has been around for many years and has helped the blind have access to computers and online content. It is also important for individuals with dyslexia and individuals who have difficulties reading. Creating properly tagged content on websites helps these text-to-speech engines interpret and read out the text so that individuals can better understand what is written on that page.
     
  5. Adding a voice recognition feature.
    This will make websites easier to browse for individuals who can’t use keyboard or mouse. Individuals with temporary injuries or physical disabilities sometimes rely solely on voice recognition. Voice recognition can be used to navigate online, write messages, place orders, etc.
     
  6. Improve your UX design to ensure simpler navigation as well as a better user experience.
    Logical order in the presentation of the content and a simple structure can be accomplished through consistent styling, clear headings, and navigation bars. Complex layouts can be confusing for individuals with cognitive and learning disabilities and for those with visual impairments. 
     
  7. Provide a way to change the size of size for clickable elements.
    Being able to change the size of the buttons, controls, and links on the website can provide easier access to the site content. Individuals with tremor or reduced dexterity could have problems hitting the right button if it is too small. The customizable text helps make the web content more accessible. Users can change the size, font, spacing, and color of the text without losing function or clarity and thereby making it more readable.
     
  8. Allow enough time for users by providing user control for time limits.
    When a timed response is required, include an option for a user to be able to request more time that will be sufficient for them. There are different types of solutions that can be incorporated into the coding phase of web design.
     
  9. Provide keyboard-accessible content or allow the possibility for users to navigate the website only through their keyboard.
    Individuals with certain disabilities must have keyboard access to the website. The Skip Navigation feature allows keyboard users to effectively skip repetitive content while navigating the website.
    Image of a person with disabilities navigating a website with keystrokes
    image from https://www.w3.org/WAI/perspective-videos/img/keyboard.jpg
  10. Permit proper feedback and input assistance.
    The website’s design should allow clear identification of input errors that give clear and understandable instructions on how to fix an error. Properly labeling the elements of the input can make management of sensitive data better, especially when mistakes are made. When providing feedback on input and instructions on input errors avoid using a complex vocabulary. 

Conclusion

There are different software solutions on the market or free sites that allow testing the website for accessibility.  

Even though a company may not be legally required to be 508 compliant, making internet services and web content accessible for individuals with disabilities will increase your audience and make your website more attractive on the market.  

In addition, being able to provide understandable content for individuals with disabilities helps build a society that is more inclusive. Providing equal access means providing equal opportunities for everyone.   

 

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