ARE YOUR DIGITAL PRODUCTS ACCESIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES?

When your company purchases or develops IT tools and systems, or creates digital products, such as documents, web pages, presentations, social media content, blogs, e-learning courses, and certain emails, do you think about whether or not it’s accessible for people with disabilities? Did you know that, in addition to improving usability and providing a better customer experience, accessibility is a legal requirement for US Federal agencies?
 

What is Web content accessibility?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world, has developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 for making Web content more accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including users with blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these.
Web accessibility depends not only on accessible content but also on accessible Web browsers and other user agents. 

The four key principles for equal website access are:
Perceivable - All content and interface components must be presented in a way that users can easily perceive. For example, websites should provide text alternatives for any non-text component, captions, pre-recorded audio or video, adaptable formats, etc.
Operable - All navigation and interfaces must be operable to any users with a disability. Keyboard-only navigation or the use of assistive technology should be allowed, as well as enough time to read and use the content.
Understandable - All information, content, and design should be presented in ways that are readable and understandable for users of all abilities. This can be achieved in different ways: avoiding abbreviations, unusual words, and keeping the reading level lower than secondary education level; making navigation predictable and consistent. 
Robust - All content on a website should be both compatible with current standards in assistive technology and adaptable to future developments in accessibility.
 
WCAG 2.0 Level AA is the shared standard for Web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.
 

What is Section 508 compliance?

In the United States, an update of Section 508 regulations of the Rehabilitation Act took effect in 2018 to bring American standards more in line with these international accessibility efforts.
The main objective of Section 508 regulations is to provide equal access to any user with a disability that interacts with a federally affiliated website in any capacity, including federal employees, online applicants for federal jobs, and private citizens requesting information or filling out forms. Bottom line, any federal web page that is available to the public, any website that is contracting with a federal agency or receiving funds for a project, or communicates official agency business must meet accessibility standards. 
Section 508 now includes clarification about the way federally employed technology interacts with assistive tools such as screen readers, taking into account how more prevalent multi-functional devices like smartphones and laptop computers have become in the past few years to browse the internet, for example.
For more information on Section 508 compliance, including useful tips and guides on how to test your site, visit https://www.section508.gov/ 
Why is this important for any organization outside the US federal government?
Despite not being bound by the rules of Section 508, many websites operated by state or local governments or public sector organizations opt to use federal standards as their guidelines, especially those that interact regularly with federal agencies.
 For any accessibility-minded organization, following these guidelines is a sure path to best address the needs of the widest possible range of users, and will also often make any Web content more usable to users in general. 

How can you test for Section 508 compliance?

A combination of automated testing and human or manual evaluation is advisable to determine 508 compliance. Many accessibility issues can be detected using an automated scan, which otherwise would take a considerable amount of time and effort to identify by hand. A periodic rescan can be scheduled to make sure compliance is met when content changes.
Issues such as compatibility with screen readers and other assistive tools, keyboard-only navigation, accessible coding, and more, require manual testing to ensure that those products are workable for real people. 
We can help you test and update your websites, software and electronic documents such as training, user guides, ongoing status reports and invoicing, to meet its responsibilities under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, or simply to make your digital products accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities.
 

Tip: Adobe PDF Accessibility

There are many products that produce PDF formats, and PDFs support many different types of content. Adobe is one of the most commonly used.
PDF documents must be tagged, to be accessible. To check for “Tagged PDF”:
Open the Document Properties (File > Properties > Description) or run the Accessibility Full Check.
If “Tagged PDF: No” is found in Document Properties, or if “Tagged PDF” fails in the Accessibility Full Check, then the PDF is not tagged.
While the accessibility of a specific format may influence the accessibility of specific document types, the best practice is to consult the Web Accessibility Initiative’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA and test appropriately.
 
 

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