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5 Ways to Prepare for the Section 508 Refresh

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We govies have been waiting for the Section 508 refresh for almost seven years. It was April 2008 when an advisory committee presented the first draft of the refresh to the U.S. Access Board. Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended in 1998. The amendment includes accessibility requirements for government agencies when they use, buy, or maintain electronic and information technology (EI&T). This refresh will harmonize Section 508’s requirements with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

These new requirements will bring a big change to how we work. Instead of waiting until the official announcement is served with a surprise wake-up call, why not prepare for the certain changes that are coming? These tips can help you implement the new requirements in your agency’s projects.

  1. Understand that accessibility is more than a development issue and that the new standards reflect this.

Many people were taught that accessibility is only about how developers code a project and that you only need to test for accessibility when you complete a project. If you only think about accessibility when you start coding or when you’re ending a project, you’re probably missing some important accessibility requirements. Ensuring access to digital media begins before the first HTML tag is ever coded: It starts with how a project manager and team think about accessibility, the platforms and technologies used, information architecture, design, and so on.

What you can do: Use an accessibility workflow to help you determine how you and your entire team can figure accessibility into your personal work tasks.

Use the W3C’s Accessibility Responsibility Breakdown tool, which separates the WCAG 2.0 requirements by each role involved in an IT project. For example, it has requirements for project managers, designers, developers, and so forth. This tool enables you to know  from the start what you’ll need to do to make your work accessible.

  1. Realize that ticking boxes off a checklist or using an automated tool to check for accessibility won’t help you meet WCAG 2.0 successfully.

It’s about providing real access to your agency’s message! Some government websites may conform to Section 508, yet they still may be unusable for people with disabilities.

What you can do: Learn how people with disabilities access apps, websites, videos, and more.  See these resources for great examples:

This relates to the next point…

  1. Focus on all disabilities.

If you think that accessibility is only for people who are blind or otherwise visually impaired, or you only test your project with a screen reader, then you’re missing out on communicating your agency’s message to a large audience. Disability types include:

  • Seizure and neurological disorders
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Deafness and hard-of-hearing
  • Visual concerns, including color-blindness, aging eyes, low-vision, and blindness
  • Motor issues

What you can do: Read about the different types of disabilities and considerations for accessibility. You’ll be able to address your audience’s varying needs.

  1. Use the best tools available to help you ease into WCAG 2.0.

Get training as soon as possible! There is a lot of information about WCAG 2.0 out there…but not all of it is accurate or helpful.

What you can do:

Start with these sources:

  1. Finally, start out small.

Manage one project using WCAG 2.0 standards and see how well it goes, learn what you can do to improve your process, examine difficult parts for your team, and more.

What you can do: Chat with other civil servants who have already incorporated WCAG 2.0 principles in their programs and ask them for tips. Often, they will talk with you and your team to share pain points, common mistakes, and the specific processes they chose and why.

One more thing: If you use WCAG 2.0 now, you’ll spare yourself heartache later. Imagine creating a project that conforms to the current Section 508 requirements. Now imagine having to redo the project to conform to WCAG 2.0. That would be a waste of time and money, right? Be a hero and save tax dollars.

Have your team and agency  started working with WCAG 2.0? Share your experiences, tips, and questions!

Angela Hooker is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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J. Bern Jordan

Recent rumors that I have seen on email and twitter (search #section508) point to publication of the notice of proposed rulemaking of the Section 508 refresh on February 18, 2015. After publication, there will likely be a 90-day public comment period. This would be a good time to get a heads-up on potential 508 standards changes and to make comments.

Profile Photo David B. Grinberg

Belated kudos on an awesome post, Angela! I don’t think most public servants are even aware of Section 508 until they might need it. This is especially important for the recruitment, retention and advancement of people with disabilities in federal gov. Thanks for all your exemplary work in this area.