How to Make Sure Your Online Education Materials Are Section 508 Compliant

You may already know that your eLearning materials must be fully compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act — but what does full compliance actually look like in practice? We asked Christopher Doyle, Education Specialist at the Maryland State Department of Education, to explain the recent refresh to the Section 508 law in layman’s terms.

Here’s how he phrased it:

“The Section 508 Refresh recognizes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as the success criteria applicable to websites, electronic documents, and software. This brings the 508 Standards [which hadn’t been updated since 1998] up to date with the technologies that are available today, ensuring that individuals with disabilities are able to use them. WCAG 2.0 is technology-neutral, so it is easily applied to all sorts of technology.

WCAG 2.0 states that technology should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Perceivable: The information must be able to be seen by a person with visual impairments (through a screen reader, screen magnifier, or other assistive technology), or heard by a person who is hard of hearing or deaf (through captions, written transcript, etc.).

Operable: The technology must be able to be operated by a user with a disability. For example, a website can be made navigable by keyboard shortcuts for someone who is unable to use a mouse.

Understandable: The technology must be operable by users with varying cognitive abilities.

Robust: The technology must be compatible with current assistive technology (AT) and must be prepared to upgrade for future iterations of AT.

The WCAG 2.0 requirements are broken up into three levels:

Level A: This level defines the lowest or minimum level of accessibility. Although the information will be accessible to some groups of users with disabilities, many groups will still find it very difficult or impossible to access information in the document. Satisfying these success criteria is the minimum set of requirements.

Level AA: This level defines a higher level of accessibility. Although the information will be accessible to most users with disabilities, one or more groups will still find it difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying these success criteria will remove significant barriers to accessing web content. In order to be AA compliant, content must also be level A conformant.

Level AAA: Satisfying these criteria will enhance the user experience for individuals with disabilities. Not all Level AAA success criteria can be addressed for all types of content.

In short: Level A is acceptable under Section 508, but many more potential users are able to access information that meets the Level AA requirements.

Who decides if your content meets these criteria? An accessibility specialist evaluating the course would make that accessibility determination.

Using WCAG 2.0 will also bring the U.S. government and its vendors into harmony with the international accessibility community. This will help create a uniform experience for users with disabilities around the world, so vendors can comply with WCAG 2 A and AA standards while also knowing their product or service will conform to Section 508.”

We hope Mr. Doyle’s explanation help clarify the thinking behind these updated standards.

For even more detail about each section of the criteria, use the Web AIM WCAG 2.0 Checklist to see how your own content measures up.

And for more help on making your video content Section 508-compliant, check out our recent blog post about video transcribing and captioning services.

Image: “Web Accessibility Word Cloud” by Jill Wright, via Flickr Creative Commons License

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