Resources for Section 508 Compliance and Accessibility

Monday, February 14, 2011

I wanted to share two quick resources for testing your pages for accessibility and compliance with Section 508 of the US Federal Rehabilitation Act.  If you are unfamiliar with Section 508, it mandates that the Web sites of US Federal Government Agencies remove barriers in their electronic communications that would prevent disabled people from accessing those communications.  More information is available here, and the US Government's Section 508 Web site is available here.

One question you may have is whether Section 508 applies to you if you don't develop sites for the US Government.  There are several reasons that building accessible sites is good practice.  First, it is the right thing to do.  Thought of another way, when you build accessible sites, you are choosing not to build barriers that exclude people based on their differences.  We recognize that excluding people based on their differences is wrong in employment, building design, availability of services and many other fields.  Web accessibility is just a logical extension of that recognition.

Section 508 is also being understood to apply to more than just Federal Agency Web sites.  Many city and county governments are specifying that their Web sites must be 508 compliant, and even agencies that receive federal funds are doing so.  Getting into the habit of building accessible sites is a good idea for Web developers because they may have to do so on any government funded project.

Finally, sites that work well with screen reader technology tend to also be quite readable to other devices outside the normal desktop computer world, specifically Internet search engine spiders and mobile devices.  This means that by building an accessible site, you are not only doing the right thing, you will also likely benefit from better search engine results and your site will work better with mobile devices.

So, the tools that I wanted to recommend are:

AChecker: an online accessibility checker funded by the government of Ontario.  The tool is available here and information about it is here.

Cynthia Says:  a on online tool offered through a collaboration between the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet and HiSoftware.  The tool is available here.

One note about these tools.  As we've been going through our site and checking for 508 compliance, we've found that the two tools frequently disagree.  Cynthia Says allows for some workarounds that AChecker does not.  This seems to be because Cynthia Says is targeted specifically at 508 compliance, so keep that in mind when you review the results.  Also, one caution --- you may find that you need to be careful with content from external sources.  One area where we still have work to do is our blog, specifically where we include markup from SlideShare.   Be aware that sometimes you will need to tweak content that you get from an external service.

Posted by: Mark Reichard at 7:59 AM
Tags: Content Management