Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
agencies to make their electronic and information
technologies accessible to people with disabilities. Here’s a primer on website
compliance with 508 guidelines.
First off, remember that Section 508
isn’t just about making websites more accessible for blind people. The
guidelines make websites more accessible to people with disabilities ranging
from colorblindness to paralysis, epilepsy, hearing impairment, and even a slow
dial-up Internet connection. The goal is to make all the information on your
website available in the simplest format, so that interaction with your site
can be as flexible as possible.
one of the most important considerations to make in adapting your website is
how it will interact with a screen reader. A screen reader is an assistive technology that translates
information on a website into speech, Braille, or another format in an orderly
fashion to help people with visual impairment or learning disabilities. One of
your main tasks in reaching 508 compliance is cooperating with the screen
reader to make your website as understandable as possible.
Step 1: Get friendly with the alt
Researcher, this is an alt tag. Alt tag, this is a well-informed
researcher. When you’re putting an image in a website, you should always use
the alt tag to include a detailed caption for the image so that a screen reader
can describe it to users with visual impairment.
You should also make sure to include
a “null” alt tag in images that are part of your site’s layout but don’t carry
important information. In html,
you can do this by including the phrase alt=“” in your img tag. Including a null alt text in these images
allows a screen reader to skip over them without adding confusing narration.
Step 2: Make yourself colorblind
While there’s nothing wrong with
adding color to your website to give it a little bit of pizzazz, be conscious
of the fact that not everybody sees color the same way. For people with colorblindness, colored
text might fade into a colored background. The best way to avoid this type of problem is to keep your
And try to avoid using color to
designate a section heading. Screen readers break up web pages by using a different voice for
headings, but only identify larger font sizes or formatting changes like bold
or underline as designators. You
can use color in a section heading, but be sure to also designate the heading
in some other way, too.
Step 3: Video killed the
Videos are one of the trickier subjects
in accessibility. In some cases,
it’s easiest to just provide a text-only version of the content. Short of that, though, you can make
videos accessible by providing captioning for both actions and dialogue. And remember that audio files always need
to be accompanied by a transcript.
Step 6: Adobe Acrobat isn’t
You’ve run the accessibility check
on your PDF documents, and they come out clear, but that’s not always
There’s a simple check-list
on the HHS website that you should run through before posting your PDF
Step 4: The subtle difference
between a table and a pile
When someone uses a reader to access
a data table, they depend on the row headers and column headers of the table to
make sense of its content. In html
you can add headers using the <th> tag at the beginning of each row and
column. Without row and column
headers, the table becomes a jumble of data that’s nearly indecipherable for
people with visual impairment.
Step 5: Save the strobe lights
for Studio 54
Do you remember that controversy
around a Pokémon episode that was banned in the USA because the flashing lights
were dangerous to kids with epilepsy? Flickering animations are still dangerous on the Inter-net, so avoid
strobing and flashing in your website. Plus, nobody really needs to see that video of the mitosis break-dance anyway.
Step 7: Life without style sheets
While a style sheet is useful for
making your website look nice, make sure that your website doesn’t rely too
heavily on it. Take a look at your
website without the style sheet. Does it still make sense? Try to make sure that the page is organized logically so that it doesn’t
need the style sheet to put elements in the right order.
Step 8: If all else fails…
Provide a text-only version of your
website. This is by far the best
way to make your site accessible to people using a screen reader. The best way to include the text-only
option is to make a link that says “text only” at the top of a page in the same
color as the website’s background, so that anybody who isn’t using a reader
can’t see it.
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