Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Section 508 Accessibility Requirements Is Your Brand Compliant?

Ben Ramsey, Associate Creative Director
Innovation / Platforms / Technology

The best brands know that customer experience is the differentiator. While many businesses are apt to focus on the customer journey and seamless experience, there are often basic expectations not being met for many of their users who have varied needs when navigating, inputting, and receiving information from digital experiences.  

On January 18th, revisions to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act went into effect. The revisions are to the accessibility requirements for electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained or used by federal agencies. 

While this does not currently directly change requirements for the private sector, I do believe this is a signal for all industries: creating accessible and inclusive experiences is an ethical responsibility. All brands should ensure that their content is accessible to all, not because of regulation and litigation, but because it is the right thing to do for your users, your brand and your business.  

The recent update to Section 508 aims to:

1. Enhance accessibility for people with disabilities 

2. Make the requirements easier to understand and follow 

3. Evolve with the covered technologies 

4. Harmonize the requirements with other U.S. and international standards.  

While there are multiple changes to Section 508, the shift from a recommendation to requirement for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA standard is a particularly impactful one. 

WCAG 2.0 is a set of 12 guidelines defined by the World Wide Web Consortium. These guidelines seek to make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, and will often make your content more usable to all users. The guidelines ensure that web content adheres to four principles, guaranteeing that the content be: 

1. Perceivable

2. Operable

3. Understandable

4. Robust 

Testable success criteria can be used to determine if an experience conforms to one of three levels of compliance: A, AA, and AAA. Think of Level A as the minimum level of accessibility, and AAA as the most accessible. Most companies target AA compliance in their efforts, and this is typically referenced when settlement agreements are required.  

Information on success criteria and conformance is well-documented around the web. You can find a list of resources at the bottom of this post. 

In organizations, the responsibility for these efforts is typically placed on the technology and user experience groups. While both of these groups are critical, I believe it is the shift in a company's culture, their mindsets, and processes that is often overlooked when undergoing these initiatives. 

How will your company ensure that experiences follow the new compliance regulations? How will you train your current staff, and educate your future employees? How will accessibility considerations be The effort to reach and maintain compliance requires buy-in and support from across the organization; accessibility is everyone's job. 

It may seem daunting at first, but experienced development teams can easily tackle the seemingly complex requirements. Some of the most common violations are really simple fixes: 

• Fixing markup errors that cause screen readers to miss content (Success Criterion 4.1.1)

• Creating appropriate contrast colors between text and background (Success Criterion 1.4.3)

• Adding alt tags for screen readers to interpret non-text content, such as images (Success Criterion 1.1.1)

Addressing simple fixes is a great place to start while you ramp up planning, audit, and training efforts.  

There are many types of tools that allow brands to test and audit accessibility. Additionally, internal tools such as design systems and living style guides can ensure that your organization bakes accessibility into their work. To learn more, check out the resource list below. Or contact us for help in making your content compliant with the Section 508 requirements.

Ben Ramsey is an Associate Creative Director at Rightpoint. Follow Ben on LinkedIn


1. Section 508 Program Web Site 


2. W3C: WCAG 2.0 Guidelines 


3. W3C: Understanding WCAG 2.0  


4. United States Access Board - Communications & IT 


5. A Book Apart: Accessibility for Everyone 


6. W3C: Web Accessibility Tools