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Published

March 31, 2016

Written by

Cary Coppola

ADA and 508 Compliance Tips

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At Blue Compass, we take pride in developing websites and shaping user experiences that are easily accessible to those with disabilities. By focusing our efforts on simple, yet effective design and development guidelines, we create experiences that are elegant and accessible to almost everyone. While certain guidelines can dictate what accessibility means for a website, we take developing websites for 508 compliance very seriously.

What is ADA Compliance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, sought to end discrimination against people with disabilities. By passing laws to allow for equal opportunity, the ADA has opened the doors for those with disabilities by offering the means to participate fully in society. With traditional means of compliance, you can count on ramps built outside of businesses, braille writing under building maps at the mall and sign language during government announcements. But did you know that websites need to be ADA compliant as well?

With the rise of internet usage across the United States, it became apparent that more was needed to give those with disabilities equal opportunity in the digital space. So in 2001, an amendment to The Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed, adding an important section to act: Section 508. Section 508 dictated that websites associated with government services must be accessible to each American with a disability through small design and development requirements.

How does 508 Compliance Differ from ADA Compliance?

Ultimately, there is little variance between 508 compliance and ADA compliance. The primary distinctions are the different mediums that are accessible to those with disabilities. This means providing text versions of videos where applicable, making sure the text is legible and understandable to those that might have difficulty reading it, or even developing sites to have the capabilities for text-to-speech interactions. 508 Compliance focuses on making web interactions for those with disabilities easier.

508 compliance is about increasing the fairness and inclusivity of the internet. It is bringing the digital storefronts to the same standards with which their brick and mortar counterparts already comply. After all, giving everyone in America the ability to interact and communicate on the web is important.

One important thing to keep in mind: it is currently not required for private entities to adhere to the strict guidelines of 508 compliance. Currently, websites that have revenue from or work directly with the Federal Government of the United States of America are the only sites required to adhere to the guidelines. For the vast majority of clients and websites, 508 compliance isn’t required. 

508 Compliance vs. WCAG 2.0 Compliance

There is, however, a set of guidelines similar to 508 compliance for private entities that do not interact with the federal government, called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. These WCAG 2.0 guidelines have already become an important part of the Federal Government’s official guidelines for 508 compliance. 

The primary difference between 508 compliance and WCAG 2.0 compliance is the type of businesses they govern. 508 compliance is mandated to any company that has revenue from or contracts with the federal government, whereas WCAG 2.0 is for everyone else. However, there is currently no enforcement for WCAG 2.0 as they stand as basic guidelines or design principles for a website that may be access people with a variety of needs.

WCAG 2.0 Web Design and Development Guidelines

The vast majority of website designers and developers that are creating websites for clients or internally will be subjected to the requirements of the WCAG 2.0. Created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the WCAG 2.0 has a handy acronym that will help during design and development of a WCAG 2.0 compliant site: POUR.

POUR stands for:

  • Perceivable
    • Information and interface components must be easily presented to users so it can be easily perceived.
  • Operable
    • The user interface must be operable.
  • Understandable
    • Information and the interface must be understandable. 
  • Robust
    • Content must be robust enough to be accurately interpreted and translated to a wide variety of media and assistive technology.

WCAG 2.0 Compliance Levels

During the implementation of the first guidelines, the federal government made the concession that full 508 compliance would significantly impact the everyday usability and design of a website, so they worked to create three distinct levels of conformance. These three levels range from A, at the lowest, to AA to AAA, at the highest. 

A

The lowest level of conformance is easily obtainable by following simple best practices. While it does improve accessibility over non-WCAG 2.0 compliant websites, these sites may leave some higher requirement users out of the design process.

AA

The medium form of WCAG 2.0 conformance is the most inclusive form of design and development that still allows for a large amount of creative design and development.

AAA

This is the highest level of WCAG 2.0 conformance. It is in full accordance with 508 compliance. These websites require WCAG 2.0 design and development at every stage. Complete with full text to speech capabilities and easily navigable user interfaces.

WCAG 2.0 Web Development and Design Tips

To get you started thinking about the requirements for WCAG 2.0 compliance, we’ve created a short list of items that should be considered during development. Each will help you with overall website design and development best practices as well as WCAG 2.0.

  • A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided, or: text versions of infographics and images are available on the page.
  • Website content should be organized, so it is readable without requiring a style sheet. Allowing for clear, readable pages, even without CSS, is important.
  • Clear heading tags. Similar to the previous point, heading tags should be legible and clear without causing confusion.
  • Table headers should be properly labeled. Each table header should be denoted with the appropriate tag (<TH> vs. <TD>).
  • Multimedia should have an alternative method of understanding. Videos especially, should always include audio scripts. 
  • Image maps are a no-no unless text links are also present. Image maps are usable but should have accessible links to each part of the image.
  • iFrame content creates unreliability. iFrames are nice because the content is easily switchable. However, many accessibility programs don’t know how to handle iFrames because the content can be malleable.
  • Scripting should not generate content or navigation. Generally a bad thing for SEO, this is also a no-no for many accessibility programs.
  • Web forms must have clear structure and labeling. Web forms are a great way to get information from users, but having each field properly labeled is a necessity.
  • Upon form submission, required field indication must be text. Quizzes must display missing fields as readable text and not just visually highlight the missing information.

WCAG 2.0 and 508 Compliance Development at Blue Compass

Knowing about 508 compliance and WCAG 2.0 compliance is half the battle, which means you’re ready to start assessing your website’s accessibility and usability in relation to ADA compliance. At Blue Compass, we’re experienced in developing websites that are both usable and accessible in accordance with WCAG 2.0 guidelines. If you have any questions or would like assistance in making sure your site is compliant, please contact us for more information!

Author Thumbnail for Cary Coppola at Blue Compass
Cary Coppola

Cary Coppola currently serves as CEO and Co-Founder of Blue Compass. Blue Compass, a Des Moines, Iowa firm specializing in custom web & mobile design, development, & online marketing, opened its doors in 2007.