Find out what 508 compliance is and what you can implement on your website to be consistent with the policy.
What is 508 compliance?
508 is the section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires federal agencies’ information and communications technology — including websites — to be accessible to the disabled. That includes both employees and the website’s visitors. Although the law only applies to federal agencies, it’s increasingly common for the private sector to implement these guidelines.
Having a website that is 508-compliant is not only the right thing to do morally, but it’s smart business practice. Why wouldn’t you make your site accessible to a consumer base that would otherwise not be able to use it? Here are some tips to make a functional website that’s accessible to everyone.
Website functions to accommodate the visually impaired
This is one of the easiest design features to implement without having any kind of effect on the appearance of the website. By simply adding a zoom feature, you allow users to adjust the size of the text to whatever is easiest for them to read.
Even a large percentage of the elderly, who wouldn’t be considered disabled, are visually impaired. Eighteen percent of people 65 and older are visually impaired, and having a zoom feature would make your website more accessible to them as well.
A text-to-speech feature takes the website’s text and converts it to audio. There are several easily implemented text-to-speech options, including this one from Google.
Descriptions of images
Of course, your website is more than just text. There are no doubt lots of images that you’ve painstakingly selected to give your website just the right look. The visually impaired would normally miss out on these images, but if you have a text description, the text-to-speech feature would allow them to hear those descriptions.
One would think that cramming all this additional text onto the page would have a drastic effect on the layout, but it doesn’t have to. Depending on the content management system, there are settings that allow the alternate text to simply take the place of the image on the page, meaning that the format would stay essentially the same.
Website functions to accommodate the hearing-impaired
Accommodating the hearing-impaired is a lot simpler because websites tend to be a largely visual medium.
Basically, the only feature you have to add in order to make your website 508-compliant with the hearing-impaired is adding subtitles, something so common that you might already have it. Have subtitles available for any embedded audio or video on your website. If it’s an embedded YouTube video, there is already the closed-captions option available. If the video is a file from Adobe Premiere, there’s a feature that will add subtitles before exporting.
Artificial intelligence that converts audio into subtitles tends to get quite a bit wrong, though, so make sure you go through and collect everything so the hearing-impaired have equally accurate information to those listening to the audio.
Excellent examples of 508-compliant websites
For great examples of websites that accommodate the visually and hearing-impaired, simply look to websites that know they’re going to have a lot of visitors with those disabilities. One example is the website for the American Council of the Blind, which has a menu at the top of the page where one can change the text size and choose from four contrast options.