Monday, September 28, 2015

Is Your Software Really 508 Compliant? Three Things You Should Know.















Each day we find ourselves more and more reliant on technology. Our dependence on computers and smart phones has naturally produced some major advancement in technology. Though both exciting and liberating, major advancements in technology have also produced some unforeseen consequences. People with disabilities, for example, have increasingly faced barriers to access and enjoy the same technology we often take for granted every day. In 1998, the US Congress sought to alleviate this problem by amending the Rehabilitation Act. Specifically, Congress enacted Section 508, requiring federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.

Fast-forward 17 years and it is easy to forget what it means exactly to be 508 compliant. For example, who has to be 508 compliant? Does it only extend to federal agencies? Who ensures that tech companies adhere to 508 standards? What should I be looking for in a 508 compliant software vendor?

Fortunately, 508 compliance is a topic easily found and discussed ad nauseam across the Internet. In fact, you can find all of the Section 508 standards neatly listed HERE.

Instead of reviewing each of the many 508 standards, this article covers the three biggest misconceptions and myths concerning 508 compliance:

Only federal agencies have to be 508 compliant.

TRUE
. Contrary to what you may read on the Internet and what vendors might tell you, 508 compliance does not directly apply to the private sector. In fact, 508 compliance does not generally extend to agencies or groups using federal funds. I know what you are thinking, “why have these standards in the first place?” For starters, federal agencies represent a tremendous purchasing power and by uniformly defining and adhering to “accessible” technology they are setting a standard for the rest to follow.  Consequently, if two companies are bidding for a (for a?) government contract and one is 508 compliant, then this company is likely to win the contract.

There is a “508 certificate” proving Section 508 compliance.

FALSE. Although some software vendors will make you think they are 508 certified via some third party certification process, a real Section 508 certificate does not exist. The onus to determine whether a product or a service is 508 compliant is on the buyer and not the seller. When you are looking to take on a new vendor, request to see their 508 Evaluation Template to verify whether they meet your company’s particular compliance needs.

508 compliant websites are ugly and difficult to implement.

FALSE. First of all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we do not need to look far to see many elegant and beautiful sites that follow accessibility standards. For example, WhiteHouse.gov follows the Section 508 compliance standards and according to OneUpWeb has one of the best user experiences on the web.  On the private sector side, one only has to look at Apple’s acclaimed website to fully appreciate how modern and chic can be accessible to all.  With regards to implementation, best design and development practices already align with accessibility compliance (e.g. ALT tags for images).  Though additional considerations should be considered before building a 508 compliant site, these are all easily incorporated into the overall workflow of website design and construction.

CONCLUSION

Although there are various requirements in being 508 compliant, the key take away is to understand these requirements and ensure your software vendor or website design team knows what is needed before starting your next project.

I have the pleasure of working for VisionLink, a software and consulting company who holds itself to be 508 compliant. VisionLink customers manage millions of client and resource records for more than 6,000 communities across the United States and the world. From Meals On Wheels programs to 2-1-1 Information & Referral Centers and everything in-between, VisionLink has been providing communities with humanitarian inspired software and consulting solutions since 1991. For our systems to work and track outcomes for the people that our clients serve, we are proud to provide accessible and navigable software and websites for all.

For further questions about 508 compliance or to learn more about VisionLink, please contact me directly at: