In a nutshell, 508 compliance means that all users, regardless of disability status, can access technology. It’s a way to break down barriers and provide new opportunities for all Internet users.
Compliance standards are set by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires federal agencies to provide software and website accessibility to people with disabilities. When websites are 508 Compliant, they are accessible to all users. This can mean that they are compatible with assistive technology, such as screen readers.
Who Needs to Be Compliant?
All federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding are required to be 508 Compliant.
- government agencies
- federal-funded nonprofits
- public higher education institutions
- public K-12 schools
Many large companies have also voluntarily chosen to be 508 Compliant. If you are a part of a federal-funded industry, or if your company has adopted these internal regulations, you must provide equal accessibility to users with disabilities.
How to Become 508 Compliant
We wish we could just wave a magic wand and make a website accessible to all users. It can be a complex and complicated process, but it is an important one. Take a look at some first steps below, as well as our links to helpful resources.
Identify your goals.
If you are part of federal agency or are federally required to comply with Section 508, then it’s likely you have a federal coordinator assigned to your agency. If you want to voluntarily increase the accessibility of your website—for example, if you’re in the private sector—you can still make great improvements to increase accessibility.
First, start by establishing the most important goals for accessibility. For example, you might need to update your online checkout process or your product descriptions. By prioritizing your goals, you can increase accessibility in the most critical areas of your website first.
Understand the basics.
There are many online resources that can help you create a more accessible website. The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative presents what is widely regarded as the international standard of accessibility guidelines. They built an annotated before-and-after of a website so that you can see all of the elements that go into making a website accessible to all users. You might also wish to review how users with disabilities use the Internet to better understand the components that go into accessible web design.
Assess your site.
It’s important to take a good look at how your current website measures up to accessibility standards. Sometimes significant improvements can be made with simple design tweaks; other times, a larger-scale overhaul is necessary. Use this website to help assess the state of your compliance, as well as the resources listed above.
Look for VPATs.
You may use software products that interact with your website, such as online form builders or payment processors. A VPAT, or Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, is a document that explains how accessible a product or service is. Although the VPAT is created so that federal agencies can compare vendors, private-sector customers can use them to determine which product or service is most 508 Compliant.