In the United States alone, according to the CDC, approximately 1 in 4 Americans, or 61 million people, suffer from some form of disability. About half of these individuals suffer from hearing or vision impairment: 28 million are deaf or hard of hearing, and an additional 2 million are either visually impaired or completely blind.
With so many disabled people living in the United States, and around the world for that matter, it is easy to see why accessibility is such a vital component to forward progress. Public spaces and services need to be accessible to all people, including those who are disabled.
One key piece of the puzzle is Section 508 accessibility. What is it, and why is it necessary? What are some specific guidelines set out in Section 508 that can guide businesses to implement best practices for accessibility? Why is this so important? Let’s consider the answers to those questions.
What is Section 508?
Section 508 is an amendment to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act passed in 1998. It mandates that federal agencies make their electronic and information technology (such as web-based media) accessible to people with disabilities.
Why is Section 508 necessary? It provides a clear set of guidelines that aims to protect disabled individuals from discrimination or exclusion from basic services or sources of information in the digital realm. Nowadays Internet usage is considered by many to be a basic necessity; therefore, when disabled people are able to access web-based information, they are simply enjoying a useful amenity shared by the national (and even global) community at large.
What are Some Specific Guidelines from Section 508?
The Section 508 guidelines are largely based on WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) from W3C. Some specific guidelines from WCAG include the following principles:
• Audio description. For videos and other forms of visual media, the addition of an audio track is required to convey the same information, to the extent possible, for users with visual impairment or cognitive disability.
• Text addition to non-textual information. Enlarging upon the above point, all non-text material should have a supplemental text alternative that describes or conveys the same information to the user. For example, deaf or hard of hearing users would be able to read duly provided captions or subtitles in video presentations.
• Adaptable and accessible functionality. The WCAG principles also encourage content that can be accessed through standard keyboard operation and is not time-sensitive or time-constrained in nature. For example, criteria 2.1.3 requires that “all functionality of the content is operable through a keyboard interface without requiring specific timings for individual keystrokes.”
Of course, these are just some examples of W3C guidelines that are incorporated into Section 508’s accessibility mandate.
Why is 508 Accessibility So Important?
508 accessibility is critical for several reasons. As mentioned above, it allows disabled persons to have basic access to web-based information, which may be necessary for their well-being and personal fulfillment. As a financial consideration, it opens up a consumer base to compliant businesses that may have been previously untapped. Of course, the most important consideration for 508 accessibility is simply this: it offers a greater level of freedom to individuals suffering from a disability. That factor alone makes compliance with 508 accessibility guidelines the right thing to do.
At MAB Ventures, we are committed to providing disabled persons with an accessible environment that they need to enjoy the highest quality of life. We offer cost-effective accessibility solutions for businesses seeking to be more inclusive towards disabled individuals. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of accessible web design, reach out to us today for more information.