You may have heard the term “508 compliant.” But what exactly does that mean?
Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires government agencies to make their digital materials accessible to people with disabilities, such as the hearing and visually impaired. Some states also enforce their own versions of 508 compliance. Accessibility allows everyone to have the same online experience and knowledge of a business or service. At LMD, we believe we must be mindful of everyone’s digital experience.
In 2016, Guillermo Robles, who is blind, sued Domino’s Pizza because he was unable to order food on Domino’s website and mobile app, even though he used screen-reading software. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed Robles’ lawsuit to proceed in 2019 after declining Domino’s appeal of the lower court’s ruling. What’s the takeaway? All businesses—not just those who are required by law—should make sure their digital assets are 508 compliant.
Designing for 508 compliance doesn’t necessarily mean you need to alter your designs, but you do have to be attentive to how your users digest information. To be compliant, you have to create image and text alternative (alt) tags for photos and content and also be careful of which colors you choose.
Text tags instruct screen readers—software that enables people with severe visual impairments to use a computer—which piece of content to read first. It’s good practice to use the standard heading tags for tagging your content: H1 for titles or headlines, H2 for section headers, H3-H6 for subheads and other important copy, and P (paragraph) for body content.
Screen readers can’t interpret images, so photo and icon image tags offer a text alternative to the images on your website. The screen reader will read the image’s alt tag, which is a description of that image for the visually impaired person. When creating image descriptions, be sure to describe what is being shown clearly and with enough detail so that it can be understood by someone who can’t see it.
When selecting a foreground text color and background color, choose colors with enough contrast to ensure legibility. All users will benefit from good color contrast, but it will be most beneficial for people that have certain types of color blindness or trouble differentiating between similar color shades. There are a ton of color contrast analyzers available, but Adobe has a good one that allows you to modify your colors right on the spot to get the perfect contrast. In fact, there are various tools and methods for testing the overall 508 compliance of your website, including automated testing, which typically uses apps; manual testing, which uses repeatable, documented processes to guide human testers; and a hybrid approach that combines automated and manual testing methodologies. You can learn more about 508 compliance and testing at digital.gov and section508.gov.
508 compliance is not very hard to set up and won’t add too many extra hours to a project—and the benefits of making sure every consumer has the same digital experience is priceless. Want to know more about how to make sure your digital assets are accessible to all users? Contact LMD.