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Section 508 Compliance And Confusion

Federal Government Webmasters Rules for usability,
the Law makes all big websites accountable.

Section 508 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which came into force in August 2001). There are many aspects to 508, but only one actual requirement . . . if the government or websites that take government money doen't comply with 508, lawsuits can happen.

There are lots of places to get information about 508, some of the best are:

TIP: ADA/Section 508 Compliance in regards to used div's and tables.

Tables are only suggested when using tabular data so that column and row headers are labeled correctly and can be identified by screen readers. But any other content/data can be surrounded by a div and still be considered ADA and Section 508 compliant.
But if you are using form elements make sure you are using the "Label for" tag. The best way to test if your page is compliant is to try and navigate throughout the site only using the keyboard (tab, enter, arrow keys) and not the mouse. You may find users using a screen reader or those not able to use a mouse may not be able to access everything on the page. Also scan your page using the WAVE tool and that will let you know instantly if it suspects a problem. Again, it will not find everything but is a good place to start.

Another way you can make a non-data table 508 compliant is with the use of ""summary="layout"" in the <table> field.

The applicable Section 508 standards for a web application would be 1194.21, 1194.22, 1194.31 and 11944.1.

The technicals standards are:
§ 1194.21 Software applications and operating systems

(a) Executing Function from Keyboard
(b) Accessibility Features
(c) Input Focus
(d) User Interface Element
(e) Bitmap Images
(f) Textual Information
(g) User Selected Attributes
(h) Animation
(i) Color Coding
(j) Color and Contrast Settings
(k) Flashing or Blinking Text
(l) Electronic Forms

§ 1194.22 Web-based intranet and internet information and applications

(a) Text Tags
(b) Multimedia Presentations
(c) Color
(d) Readability
(e) Server-Side Image Maps
(f) Client-Side Image Maps
(g) Data Table 1
(h) Data Table 2
(i) Frames
(j) Flicker Rate
(k) Text-Only Alternative
(l) Scripts
(m) Applets and Plug-Ins
(n) Electronic Forms
(o) Navigation Links

The main questions asked are is the application keyboard accessible (best way to test is turn the monitor off of put the mouse away), does it track focus, is color used to indicate meaning, does the tables have row and scope and more importantly are forms fields labeled

508 Standards Guide - The guidance from the access board is pretty clear.

Also web aim has great examples of accessible forms and tables.

Also See the following Resources


Jason Smith, technical director at the American Association for the Advancement of Science has invented a Flash captioning tool that will allow blind and deaf Web surfers to enjoy Flash-enabled Web sites. Smith said, "Using Flash at all, in Flash 5 made it inaccessible." The new captioning tool will work with screen readers that translate Web information by reading it aloud or sending it to a Braille display. Andrew Kirkpatrick, technical project coordinator for the CPB/WBGH National Center for Accessible Media has said the new tool makes Flash captioning practical. While Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires Web sites to be accessible to people with disabilities, many Web designers are still playing catch up. Jamie Berke, a deaf captioning advocate, applauded the new Flash captioning tool but also said, "The key is the mind-set of Web video producers, who must learn to automatically include captioning as part of their production process... Producers have to be made aware of the existence of the tool and encouraged to use it."


On March 31, 2000, the *proposed* regulation - Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Standards for Electronic and Information Technology (NPRM) implementing Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. was published in the Federal Register. The public comment period closed on May 31, 2000. The Justice Department has ruled that the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to the Web, not just to places that can be accessed physically. Department of Justice Policy Ruling on Accessibility and Web Sites. A retailer whose Web site doesn't meet ADA standards can be sued under the act, just as a brick-and-mortar store can. The proposed standards for Section 508 are available from the Access Board site and listed under " Proposed Standards"/"Subpart B: Accessibility Standards"/"Component specific requirements"/part (c) "Web-based information and applications." The 508 draft guidelines differ very slightly from the W3C Priority 1 guidelines, so read both.

2001 508 History

Confusion Reigns Over Accessibility Compliance article explains June 21, 2001 deadline for agencies to make their computers and Web sites usable for people with a wide variety of disabilities, under section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act is causing confusion.

Access Provisions Take Effect for Federal Info Technology (6/25/01)
Board Issues New On-line Guide to the Section 508 Standards
Questions about the 508 standards can be sent to the Board at
The Board of Directors of the Compliance Office has recommended that Congress order all legislative branch entities to become Section 508 compliant. Currently, Congress mandates only that the executive and judicial branches provide electronic information accessible to the disabled. The Compliance Office, which was created to monitor federal law relating to employment of and access to public services and accommodations by disabled persons, reports Congress every two years, but decided to go forward with this report early because of the importance of the issue. "I don't know why Congress did not include themselves in the bill," said Bill Thompson, Compliance Office executive director. Starting last June, the executive and JUDICIAL branches had to make sure all new information technology products and services complied with the requirements. Only 54 percent of all federal agencies offer some kind of disability access, according to the State and Federal E-Government in the United States 2001 report by Brown University's Taubman Center.
[SOURCE: Washington Post, AUTHOR: Jason Miller] (

The Access Board - Best Practices

Confusion Reigns Over Accessibility Compliance By Karen Robb April 18, 2001
Confusion over a law requiring that agency computer systems be usable by people with disabilities is leading some federal offices to consider shutting down Web sites that do not comply.
On April 11, the General Services Administration's office of governmen twide policy issued an internal warning that Web sites that cannot be used by people with disabilities would be shut down by June 14. That threat was retracted soon afterward.
But other federal offices are considering similar drastic measures with the approach of a June 21 deadline for agencies to make their computers and Web sites usable for people with a wide variety of disabilities. Agencies must do this under section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.
"Agencies have thousands of inaccessible Web pages," said one federal Web master, who asked not to be named. "Web masters are taking pages down because they are terrified they will be sued if they do not make them compliant in time."
Joseph McKay, chief information officer at the General Services Administration's office of governmentwide policy, told Web managers in an April 11 e-mail obtained by the Federal Times that all Web sites not compliant with standards for accessibility for people with disabilities will be removed from the Web. "Any Web sites that are not Section 508 compliant will go dark after June 14, 2001," a week before the deadline, the e-mail said.
Section 508 is a 1998 amendment to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act that requires agencies to buy computers and other office equipment that can accommodate people with disabilities. Agencies that do not, the law says, will be vulnerable to lawsuits.

But some experts say agencies have misunderstood the law.

"Pre-existing Web sites do not have to meet Section 508 standards," said Doug Wakefield, information technology access specialist at the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, known as the Access Board.
Only Web sites launched or substantially redesigned after June 21 must be compliant with Section 508, Wakefield said.
"Older sites must offer an alternative way for the disabled to get the information on the site, but the Rehabilitation Act has required that before Web sites even existed," Wakefield said.
Mary Lou Mobley, trial attorney for the Justice Department, agreed with Wakefield's assessment.
"Agencies should make their older pages accessible when they can," Mobley said in a statement to the Federal Times. "When they cannot, they should, at the very least, provide an easy way for people to ask for the information that is contained in those inaccessible pages, such as a toll-free telephone number or an e-mail address."
Wakefield is concerned that agencies' overreaction to the law may leave people with disabilities with less access to information then they have now.
"No Web site is 100 percent inaccessible," he said. "Even information contained on the worst designed Web page is better than no information at all."
GSA's office of government wide policy does not intend to remove information from its Web sites, said John Sindelar, deputy associate administrator of governmentwide policy in an interview with the Federal Times. "We have a contractor working full time to make sure we are done in time," Sindelar said.
He said McKay's e-mail was worded strongly to motivate people to remove outdated material from the Web.
"We wanted to light a fire under the Web managers," said Sindelar. "We have some pretty prolific people who have posted 60-page Power Point presentations that are a year out of date. We want people to get rid of that kind of stuff."
In an April 12 e-mail to his staff, Sindelar clarified the Web policy. "We are not eliminating content for the sake of meeting 508 requirements by June 21," said the e-mail, which was obtained by the Federal Times. "We fully expect and are making a significant investment to ensure none of our Web pages go dark."
There is still a danger that Web masters who misunderstand the law's requirements will remove valuable information, said a member of Sindelar's staff who asked not to be identified.
"Everything that has come out so far is very confusing and contradictory. We need the administration to issue some clear guidance," the employee said.

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