What is 508 and ADA Compliance and Why Does It Matter for Your Website?

Category: Compliance

What is 508 and ADA Compliance and Why Does It Matter for Your Website?

If you have a website, you may have heard of the terms 508 and ADA compliance. But what do they mean and why are they important for your online presence? In this article, we will explain the basics of 508 and ADA compliance, how they affect your website, and how you can make your site more accessible and user-friendly for people with disabilities.

What is 508 Compliance?

508 compliance refers to a section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a U.S. federal law that requires federal agencies to make their information and communications technology (ICT) accessible to people with disabilities. ICT includes software, websites, electronic documents, multimedia content, phones, call centers, and more1.

Section 508 applies only to federal agencies and departments, ensuring that people with disabilities can access and use federal services and information. It may also apply to organizations that do business with federal agencies or receive federal funding2.

What is ADA Compliance?

ADA compliance refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a U.S. civil rights law passed in 1990 that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of life, including employment, education, transportation, public accommodations, and more3.

The ADA also applies to electronic and information technology, including websites. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and case law interpretation of the ADA have determined that websites are considered places of public accommodation and must be accessible to people with disabilities4.

ADA compliance applies to any business in the private and public sector that serves the public or has more than 15 employees5. Non-compliance with the ADA can result in lawsuits, fines, reputation damage, and loss of customers.

What is the Difference Between 508 and ADA Compliance?

The main difference between 508 and ADA compliance is the scope of their application. Section 508 is a federal law that applies only to federal agencies and their contractors or partners. The ADA is a civil rights law that applies to all businesses and organizations that serve the public or have more than 15 employees.

Another difference is how they are enforced. Section 508 compliance is monitored by the Access Board, an independent federal agency that develops accessibility standards and guidelines. The Access Board can issue complaints, investigations, or audits to ensure compliance6. The ADA compliance is enforced by the DOJ, which can file lawsuits or intervene in existing cases against non-compliant entities7.

How to Make Your Website 508 and ADA Compliant?

To make your website 508 and ADA compliant, you need to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of international standards for web accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WCAG provides best practices and technical specifications for making web content accessible to people with various disabilities, such as visual, auditory, cognitive, motor, or speech impairments8.

WCAG has three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. Level A is the minimum level of accessibility, while level AAA is the highest. Most websites aim for level AA compliance, which covers the most common accessibility issues and meets the requirements of both Section 508 and the ADA9.

Some of the key aspects of WCAG compliance include:

  • Providing text alternatives for non-text content, such as images, audio, video, or icons.
  • Providing captions and transcripts for audio and video content.
  • Providing clear and descriptive headings, labels, links, and navigation.
  • Providing multiple ways to find information on your website, such as search functions, sitemaps, or menus.
  • Providing sufficient color contrast between text and background.
  • Providing resizable text and zoom options for users with low vision.
  • Providing keyboard access and shortcuts for all functionality on your website.
  • Providing alternatives or instructions for content that requires user interaction, such as forms, buttons, or sliders.
  • Providing options to pause, stop, or adjust the volume of any audio or video content that plays automatically.
  • Providing options to extend or adjust the time limit for any content that requires user response.
  • Providing options to avoid or skip any content that may cause seizures or physical reactions, such as flashing or moving images. Providing options to customize the display or presentation of your website according to user preferences.
  • Providing clear and consistent feedback and error messages for user actions.
  • Providing clear and accessible policies and contact information for your website.

How to check Your Website for 508 and ADA Compliance?

There are several ways to check your website for 508 and ADA compliance, depending on your needs and resources. Here are some of the most common methods:

  • Use free tools. You can use online tools like WAVE1 or Lighthouse2 to scan individual pages of your website and identify common accessibility issues, such as color contrast, text size, image alt text, and more. These tools are easy to use and provide helpful feedback and suggestions, but they may not cover all the aspects of 508 and ADA compliance or detect complex or dynamic content.
  • Use paid tools. You can also use paid tools like ADA Accessibility Checker3 or Siteimprove to scan your entire website and generate comprehensive reports on your accessibility status, compliance level, and potential risks. These tools are more accurate and thorough than free tools, but they may also require more technical knowledge and investment.
  • Use manual testing. You can also perform manual testing on your website by using assistive technologies, such as screen readers, keyboard navigation, magnifiers, or voice control, to simulate how people with disabilities access and use your website. This method can help you discover issues that automated tools may miss, but it may also be time-consuming and require expertise and experience.
  • Use expert services. You can also hire professional web accessibility experts or agencies to audit your website and provide you with detailed recommendations and solutions for improving your accessibility and compliance. This method can ensure the highest quality and reliability of your website, but it may also be the most expensive and complex option.

The best way to check your website for 508 and ADA compliance is to use a combination of these methods, depending on your goals, budget, and resources. By doing so, you can ensure that your website is accessible to all users and compliant with the relevant laws and standards.

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