The importance of web accessibility part 2 – Section 508 vs. WCAG 2.0

We published a post on the importance of web accessibility back in February.

We were very clear that we believe that a fully accessible web will better reflect its global audience and will empower a greater number of people to discover what they need to take a full and active role in their society. So this brief follow-up to the earlier post looks at the implications of web accessibility guidelines in the US market – specifically Section 508.

It is important to remember that UK publishers’ content needs to be compliant with Section 508 if this content is accessible via any US federal agency – and this includes libraries. Section 508 also requires private web sites to comply if they are receiving federal funds or are under contract with a federal agency. It’s also important to remember that there is always room for interpretation and therefore achieving full, unambiguous compliance can be a challenge.

We support level AA of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines as standard. As we work across increasingly internationalised markets we also offer support for the guidelines set in Section 508 Subpart B, 1194.22 (Web-based intranet and internet information and applications). In the points that follow, I focus on the differences between Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 levels A and AA.

  1. WCAG 2.0 is based on best practices, and is not formally affiliated with any legislation. US Section 508 is government law and enforceable for Federal agencies under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
  2. US Section 508 was drawn from WCAG 1.0 so the guidelines are generally identical or very similar. Section 508 is currently being refreshed to harmonize with WCAG 2.0.
  3. Until this harmonisation is complete, WCAG 2.0 has a higher level of accessibility than Section 508. In other words, techniques used to meet that standard can be used to meet every one of the section 508 guidelines.
  4. Therefore it is worth noting that Section 508 does not have counterparts for the following WCAG techniques which would be required for WCAG 2.0 Level A compliance:
    • Provide concise, unique and descriptive titles for web pages using the <title> element
    • Identify default human language(s) using language attributes on the html element. Level AA compliance indicates that if the language changes within the document, use a LANG attribute as part of another tag, such as <span>, e.g.: Marie Antoinette is credited with saying, <span lang="fr">"Qu’ils mangent de la brioche"</span> – usually mistranslated as <span lang="en">"Let them eat cake"</span>
    • Validate all HTML, XML (including WAI-ARIA) and CSS code against the appropriate on-line or off-line validator
    • Automatic sounds; if the page plays a sound for more than three seconds, the user should be able to change the sound’s volume or turn it off
    • Links; link text should make sense when read out of context
    • Automatic responses; changing settings or focus should not generate an automatic response from the page
    • Error Assistance; help users avoid or correct mistakes.
  5. Furthermore, it is worth noting that Section 508 does not have counterparts for the following WCAG techniques which would be required for WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance:
    • Color Contrast; regular and bitmapped text should have sufficient contrast with the background to ensure legibility
    • Bitmapped text; where possible, actual text should be used instead of bitmapped text
    • Navigation; provide clear ways for users to locate specific pages within a site
    • Headers; use header markup to indicate page hierarchy; do not use it solely for formatting text

Tools

References

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