Tips for Navigating 508 Compliance

February 22, 2017

Kendra Barker, M.Ed.
Instructional Designer-Specialist
Collaborative for Excellence in Behavioral Health Research and Practice
University of Missouri-Kansas City

Think 508 compliance is just for other people to worry about?

Think again. Disabled World reported in 2015 that people with disabilities experience substance use disorders at a rate two to four times higher than the general population.  CDC reported in 2015 that one out of every five people in the U.S. has a disability.

It's important that people with disabilities have access to information and resources on the Web. That's where 508 enters the picture.  Yet, for many people, 508--what it is, and what rules must be followed--is a bit of a mystery.  In this blog post, I hope to clear up some of that mystery by defining 508 compliance and why it's important to you, your organization, and those you serve (clients, patients, colleagues, and staff).

What is 508 compliance?

To understand 508, we first have to understand web accessibility. According to W3C (Web Accessibility Initiative): "Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web." In 1998, the Rehabilitation Act was amended to require all Federal agencies to make any electronic or information technology product accessible to people with disabilities. That's 508 compliance. 

How do you make sure everyone can access your product on the Web? It's actually pretty easy. First, plan ahead to organize your product. For example, if you use a graph in a video, under 508 standards you need to make sure you describe the graph through narration or a transcript. Make sure you add that to your timeline. Remember, if people can't access your product, they won't use it. Also, it's easier to add 508 components to your Web product in the development stage, rather than when requested after your product is live--which can take a lot of time. This is important, because organizations unable to make accommodations under 508 may face legal consequences.  

Let's look at a PowerPoint slide that is not 508 compliant. 

What's wrong with this picture? 

1. Let's start with the biggest problem: the background. It's mainly black, making the text hard to read, especially for people who are colorblind. Avoid busy or dark backgrounds unless your text is in a high-contrast color. 

2. Font colors. The red font in the word "alcohol" blends in with the background. in the middle of the slide, the blue font is barely visible against the black background. The white text in the line at the bottom of the slide stands out, but it's barely legible because its so small.

3. Speaking of text, none of the fonts used are 508 compliant. For those with sight problems, this makes it hard to read. Stick to the tree most commonly used fonts for Web products: Arial, Georgia, or Verdana.  

4. Font size. The line "Presented by..." (Yes, I made that up) is too small to see. Some 508 compliance checkers say you have to use a minimum 10-point font for a PC and 12 point with a Mac. I stick with 12 point, as it is a lot easier to read in general. 

5. Website name. (The website in this example is fictional.) Use the website title, which tells the user exactly where they are going when they select the link, rather than the URL. For example, for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, list HHS. gov instead of 

6. Lists. On the right side, next to the hands image, do you see "Opioids and Morphine Derivatives?" Is this a list? If so, use bullet points to show that it is a list. 

7. The image of the hands. For users with a visual impairment, who may not be able to see this picture, you will need to add "alt" text--short text describing the picture that is read by  a screen reader.  Add alt text to all of your images. 

Here's the same PowerPoint slide, corrected for 508 compliance: 

If you print this in black and white, can you see everything perfectly? Yes! Did it take me long to make these changes? No!

Keep in mind that these are just a few tips on 508 compliance. These tips apply to every type of product you create for the Web.

508 compliance is not that difficult, and it can benefit you by benefiting your clients. It just takes time and practice.  The main thing to remember is that planning ahead is key to 508 success.

For more information, check out the following resources:
Section 508 Law and Related Laws and Policies

About our guest blogger 

Kendra Barker is an Instructional Designer Specialist at the Collaborative for Excellence in Behavioral Health Research and Practice at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies. Her passion is creating engaging and interactive courses that are accessible to all types of learners.    

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Sarah Knopf-Amelung, MA-R
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Caroline Miller, MSW
Outreach Specialist,
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