The 21st century has been, and will continue to become even more of a technological world. Nearly any activity you can name has some degree of technology associated with it, yet many of those technologies are still inaccessible to people with impairments or disabilities (visual, auditory, motor, cognitive, age-related, etc.).
According to the US Census Bureau, there are 36 million people who have at least one disability, about 12 percent of the total US population. Which means over a tenth of the US population may not have access to your information and services.
Thankfully, accessibility laws are finally advancing as well! In January 2017, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1972, which requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities, received a much needed refresh. This refresh brings the US up to speed with other countries by requiring federal agencies to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
What is WCAG 2.0?
WCAG 2.0 is an internationally used technical standard of 12 guidelines. These guidelines are organized under four principles that ensure content is directly accessible to as many people as possible and capable of being represented in varied forms to match peoples’ sensory, physical, and cognitive abilities.
The four principles are:
- Perceivable (users must be able to perceive the information being presented by at least one of their senses)
- Operable (users must be able to operate that interface’s components and navigation)
- Understandable (users must be able to understand not only the information presented but also the operation of the user interface)
- Robust (users must be able to access the content as technologies advance)
The WCAG 2.0 has three levels of testable success (A, AA, and AAA). Level A is the easiest to reach, AAA is the hardest. Section 508 compliance requires levels A & AA for different criteria.
What content needs to be accessible?
Section 508 standards apply to hardware, software, websites (including text, images, video, forms, animations, and documents), and multimedia. Each of these must comply with WCAG 2.0 criteria levels of A and AA.
Does my information legally need to be accessible?
Most likely. While Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 only applies to federal agencies, many non-federal websites are required to be accessible under other laws such as Section 504 which requires any organization receiving federal funding or assistance to be accessible.
More broadly, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also applies by requiring any person, business, or organization covered under the Act to communicate effectively about their programs, services, and activities (including information provided on the web). While the ADA does not have specific technical standards, the Department of Justice is considering proposing WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the standard (which is also what the Revised 508 Standards are based on).
Even if your website does not fall under any of these laws, an accessible website should be used as a best practice to help you meet the needs of ALL of your customers.
When is the deadline for Section 508 Refresh compliance?
Organizations that are affected by the Section 508 Refresh must be compliant by January 18, 2018.
Good news though – for those already compliant under the existing Section 508, your current information is grandfathered in. You are only responsible for ensuring new and altered/updated information is compliant with the revised standards.
Where can I find more information?
Each month, we will be posting tips and walkthroughs of each of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines on our blog. For more information now, take a look at the sources listed below. If you are in immediate need of help, contact us now!
GSA Government-wide Section 508 Accessibility Program: www.section508.gov
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0: www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/