Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ruminating on Section 508 Accessibility standards

In the UX world, you would often come across the phrases such as "compliance with Section 508". So what exactly is Section 508 and how does it relate to User Experience?

"Section 508" is actually an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and was signed into a law in 1998. This law mandates that all IT assets developed by or purchased by the Federal Agencies be accessible by people with disabilities. The law has stated web guidelines that should be followed while designing and developing websites.

It is important to note that Section 508 does not directly apply to private sector web sites or to public sites which are not U.S. Federal agency sites. But there are other forces at play, that may force a organization to make their websites accessible. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) that was passed way back in 1990 prohibits any organization to discriminate on the basis of disability.
The following link reveals examples of law suites filed for violation of ADA - http://www.law360.com/articles/513033/doj-focuses-on-ada-compliance-in-the-digital-age

Beyond the legal regulations, there are also open initiatives aimed at improving the accessibility of websites. W3C has an initiative named "Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)" that lays down standards and guidelines for accessibility. There is also a standard for content authoring called - "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)".

The following sites provide good reading material on Accessibility -


Jotting down the high level guidelines that should be followed for accessibility.

  1. A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided (e.g., via "alt", "longdesc", or in element content).
  2. Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation shall be synchronized with the presentation. For e.g.  synchronized captions.
  3. Web pages shall be designed so that all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup. Color is not used solely to convey important information. Ensure that foreground and background color combinations provide sufficient contrast when viewed by someone having color deficits or when viewed on a black and white screen. 
  4. Documents shall be organized so they are readable without requiring an associated style sheet. If style-sheets are turned off, the document should still be readable. 
  5. Client-side image maps are used instead of server-side image maps. Appropriate alternative text is provided for the image as well as each hot spot area.
  6. Data tables have column and/or row headers appropriately identified (using the element).
  7. Pages shall be designed to avoid causing the screen to flicker with a frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz. No element on the page flashes at a rate of 2 to 55 cycles per second, thus reducing the risk of optically-induced seizures.
  8. When electronic forms are designed to be completed on-line, the form shall allow people using assistive technology to access the information, field elements, and functionality required for completion and submission of the form, including all directions and cues.
  9. When a timed response is required, the user shall be alerted and given sufficient time to indicate more time is required.