Have You Heard of Section 508? Make Sure Your Site Is Legal

“When accessibility is ingrained in your company culture, it’s easier to predict opportunities for accessibility and avoid non-compliant communications or processes.”

www.brailleworks.com, May 2017

Section 508 is an amendment that was made to the 1973 Workforce Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 states that all federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding are required by law to ensure that their webpages are fully accessible to everyone.

A common misconception about Section 508 is that it only applies to websites that are owned and operated by the federal government. But this turns out to not be true. Any company that works directly with or for the federal government is also required by this amendment to ensure that their online content is accessible to everyone. Even if you are not federally required to have Section 508 compliance, there are state laws that may affect you along with institutional laws and grant requirements.

In the United States of America, Section 508 is not the only regulation that governs the way that website content is formatted. In total, there are three laws:

●     Section 508

●     The Americans With Disabilities Act: The ADA states that all businesses, state and local governments, and nonprofit organizations need to ensure that accommodations for disabled individuals are made so that they can access the same services as able-bodied consumers.

●     Web Content Accessibility Guidelines: WCAG is a set of guidelines put forth by the ADA, centered around how to make your website content accessible to everyone. Even though this is not technically a law, WCAG does have a higher level of standards than Section 508.

There are also two other laws that directly correspond with Section 508:

●     Section 255 of The Communications Act: This requires that all telecommunication products and services be accessible to all.

●     The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010: This act requires that all advanced communications services and products be accessible to people with disabilities.

Now, even though you may not be directly related to or working with the federal government, it is a good idea to make sure that your website is fully accessible to everyone. Not being accessible means missing out on a large population of people that could be potential customers, subscribers, etc.

So what can being ADA and Section 508 compliant do for you, your website, and your audience?

  1. ADA/Section 508 compliance means a better overall website: Just complying with the set rules and guidelines will give your website a more user-friendly and easy-to-search webpage. This will not only benefit your disabled patrons, but all of your patrons. No one likes searching through a difficult-to-look-at webpage, and most end up getting frustrated and backing out of a website if they can’t find what they are looking for quickly.
  2. ADA/Section 508 compliance may improve your reputation: If your business is seen as one that cares about every individual that uses your services, then you will be recommended to other people. Even in our digital times, word of mouth is still a huge traffic-driver. If you are unintentionally excluding people from being able to use your website and services, this can end up negatively affecting your reputation.
  3. ADA/Section 508 compliance can increase your target audience: It has been shown that 15-20% of the United States’ population is affected by some form of disability. So if your website is not fully accessible, you could potentially be missing out on up to 57 million people’s interactions.That is a huge amount of potential business and interaction that could be missed out on!
  4. ADA/Section 508 compliance can make you more search engine optimization (SEO) friendly: Since being compliant means being more descriptive, adding tags, having subtitles, and all around more text added to your site, this ultimately makes you more searchable and SEO-friendly. For example, when being Section 508 compliant, a hyperlink can not simply be labeled as “Click here” or “Learn more.” The link needs to have a complete description, like “Click here to learn more about being Section 508 compliant”.

In conclusion, even if you are not required to be Section 508 or ADA compliant, it’s definitely beneficial to be. Having an easy-to-navigate, accessible website is an all-around best practice. Unintentionally excluding people from your content and services is not what anyone wants to do, and is easily avoidable. And once you have reached compliance, it is easy to maintain, meaning that you will increase your potential viewing audience for years to come.