Accessible and Section 508 Compliant Documents
Accessibility standards set forth by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act require all electric documents be accessible to everyone, including individuals who have disabilities. Adobe PDF’s (Portable Document Format) are the most common, widely-used electronic document format in existence today. Nevertheless, Section 508 compliance also applies to other electronic document formats including Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Following guidelines for accessibility make electronic documents accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, and combinations of these. The guidelines ensure people using the following assistive technology products can access documents online.
Assistive Technology Used by People with Disabilities:
- Light Signaler Alerts
- Keyboard Filters
- Touch Screens
- Wands and Sticks
- Sip-and-Puff Systems
- Electronic Pointing Devices
- Alternative Keyboards
Assistive Technology Used by People with Visual Impairments:
- Screen Readers
- TTY/TDD Conversion Modems
- Screen Enlargers & Screen Magnifiers
- Color Contrast
- Refreshable Braille Display
- Talking and Large-Print Word Processors
The main principle behind the creation of the PDF file format was to establish conformity so documents look the same when displayed online as they do in printed form; regardless of what operating system an individual uses to access the document. Likewise, Section 508 has established the standard that electronic documents must be accessible to everyone, regardless of whether or not an individual uses assistive technology to read the document. In other words, electronic documents are only considered 508-Compliant when assistive technologies can provide disabled users with the same information that’s displayed visually.
Accessibility Quality Control
Information used by assistive technologies is provided within a document via a tag structure format that represents its’ visual and structural components. To ensure compliance with Section 508, a person must inspect and review every single page within a document and modify its’ tag-structure to make certain all elements conform to accessibility requirements. At Braille Works we have a standard workflow for assessing and remediating documents for accessibility.
The most important element when remediating and repairing documents for compliance with Section 508 is assistive technology quality control. Document remediation requires human involvement even when using all the accessibility tools provided. Braille Works utilizes a great balance of human quality control and accessibility tools to ensure our clients’ documents are accessible and 508 compliant. We’d love the opportunity to do the same for your company. Save yourself from a lot of work and the possibility of litigation by allowing us to handle your Section 508 document remediation. You’ll be happy you did!
Although accessibility requirements include a wide variety of different compliance specifications when applied to PDF’s, you should be aware that no legally binding set of accessibility requirements are currently defined by the U.S. Access Board. This means some liberty can be taken when developing Section 508 compliant documents as long as you don’t stray too far from the best practices listed below.
Section 508 Compliant PDF Checklist
The following checklist is from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Electronic documents that pass all of the applicable requirements on this list are considered to be in compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The last update to this list was made in March 2013. Only the main sections are listed here but you can click the links to read all of the specific requirements under each section.
- Master Requirements for all Documents
- Requirements for General Layout and Formatting
- Requirements for Accessibility Tagging and Reading Order
- Requirements for Document Images
- Requirements for Tables
- Requirements for Form Fields
Who Does Section 508 Affect?
Anyone wishing to do business with the Federal Government is affected by this law. If contractors or vendors submit noncompliant documents the government has every right to reject them or cancel contracts.
Federal Agencies Affected:
- United States Congress
- United States Federal Courts
- United States Department of Agriculture
- United States Department of Commerce
- United States Department of Defense
- United States Department of Education
- United States Department of Energy
- United States Department of Health and Human Services
- United States Department of Homeland Security
- United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
- United States Department of Interior
- United States Department of Justice
- United States Department of Labor
- United States Department of State
- United States Department of Transportation
- United States Department of Treasury
- United States Department of Veterans Affairs
Avoid Litigation with Section 508 Compliance
It’s a lot better to be in compliance with Section 508 requirements than to be added to this list of lawsuits that took place 2009-2013.
- 2009 – Plaintiff: Smith, Lewkowicz VS. Defendants: Expedia.com & Hotels.com
- 2009 – Plaintiff: National Federation of the Blind (NFB) VS. Defendant: Law School Admission Council (LSAC)
- 2009 – Plaintiffs: American Council of the Blind (ACB), American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and California Council of the Blind (CCB) VS. Defendant: Staples
- 2009 – Plaintiffs: National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Virgil Stinnett VS. Defendant: The Small Business Administration (SBA)
- 2009 – Plaintiffs: The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Margot Downey VS. Defendant: Social Security Administration (SSA)
- 2011 – Plaintiff: American Council of the Blind (ACB) VS. Defendant: American Cancer Society
- 2011 – Plaintiff: National Federation of the Blind (NFB) VS. Defendant: Disney
- 2011 – Plaintiffs: American Council of the Blind (ACB), California Council of the Blind (CCB) and Bay State Council of the Blind VS. Defendant: Major League Baseball (MLB)
- 2011 – Plaintiff: Cullen VS. Defendant: Netflix
- 2011 – Plaintiff: National Federation of the Blind (NFB) VS. Defendant: New York University (NYU)
- 2011 – Plaintiff: National Federation of the Blind (NFB) VS. Defendant: Northwestern University
- 2011 – Plaintiff: National Federation of the Blind (NFB) VS. Defendant: Montgomery County, MD
- 2012 – Plaintiff: National Federation of the Blind (NFB) VS. Defendant: Florida State University
- 2012 – Plaintiffs: National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Sebastian Ibanez VS. Defendant: Maricopa Community College District
- 2012 – Plaintiff: Donna Jodhan VS. Defendant: Government of Canada
- 2013 – Plaintiff: Michael Leiterman VS. Defendant: Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
There are some big names on that list! If your company currently works with Government agencies or plans to in the future, your best bet is to be prepared with Section 508 compliant documents from Braille Works.