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How to Remediate PDF’s and Electronic Documents for Accessibility and Section 508 Compliance

Accessible and Section 508 Compliant Documents

Image showing the logos for Microsoft Word, Power Point and Adobe PDF with the words "Section 508 Compliant" above
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
  • Trackballs
  • Joysticks
  • 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

Image of assitive technology products including an alternative keyboard, screen-reading software, braille display, trackball and a sip-and-puff system

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.

  1. Master Requirements for all Documents
  2. Requirements for General Layout and Formatting
  3. Requirements for Accessibility Tagging and Reading Order
  4. Requirements for Document Images
  5. Requirements for Tables
  6. 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:Image showing U.S. Federal Agency Seals

  • 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.

Section 508 and Accessibility Compliance For Beginners

Distinctive Designing for the Delight of People with Disabilities

Image showing 12 accessibility and disability symbols including audio, large print, blind, braille, sign language, deaf, wheelchair accessible, etcetera.

Do you work in the technology industry or produce documents for a government agency? Are you a web developer, graphic designer, content creator or social media strategists? If you fall into one of these categories, listen up. Chances are sooner or later you’re going to be assigned a project requiring “508 Compliant Accessibility Standards”.

What the Heck is 508 Compliant Accessibility?

The original Section 508 Amendment was added to the Rehabilitation Act back in 1986. In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act (1973) to require all Federal agencies make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Two of the most widely used things affected by these changes where websites and Portable Document Format (PDF) files. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, open new opportunities for people with disabilities, and encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. ‘794 d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others.

Even more changes were made in 2001 when The Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) Accessibility Standards were published along with amendments to the Federal Acquisitions Regulations (FAR). These rules and regulations solidified the law requiring federal and federally funded agencies to provide people with disabilities easy access to electronic and information technology. Federal employees and members of the public who have disabilities using Federal information and technology now have the same access as everyone else.

So Now What?

Section 508 compliance can be intimidating for beginners to say the least. Many people’s minds often focus first on the legal implications that can be involved. If you acquire a client that’s looking for accessible PDF files or needs to redesign their website so it meets Section 508 requirements, try not to be too intimidated or turned-off. Although it may sound arduous or downright scary to learn, the fact of the matter is it simply requires steady adherence to compliance rules, many of which are already established best practices.

Image showing the Facebook "like"button and the new "handicapped" wheelchair symbol along with the words "Keep Calm and Include Everyone"

Although Section 508 compliance can be intimidating for beginners at first, try your best to “Keep Calm and Include Everyone”

For example, certain color-scheme requirements must be followed to ensure text is readable by people with color blindness or other vision-related disabilities. Images posted online must have an “alternative description” (alt) that accurately describes the image (for instance: <img src=”braille-works-logo.png” alt=”Braille Works logo”>). You’ll also want to make sure the “alt” description isn’t too lengthy and doesn’t repeat other text on the page. The strenuous part of following Section 508 requirements is locating an easy-to-follow list with clear, concise rules. To make your research easier I’m linking to a great 508 resource list at the end of this post.

How Does Section 508 Affect Designers and Developers?

While Section 508 compliance is currently only legally binding for United States Federal agencies or other agencies that are federally funded, chances are it’s only a matter of time before your customers request you provide them with an accessible online experience and 508-compliant electronic files like downloadable PDF’s when they visit your website. Section 508 applies to hardware, software, websites, downloads and documents so it’s best for developers and designers to be prepared ahead of time, especially if your company provides public services in one way or another. In reality, every industry has a high probability of having customers who need accessible materials both online and off.

How Do You Make Website Designs Section 508 Compliant?

There are three major Section 508 requirements that must be met.

  1. Technical Requirements: website coding, software, operating systems, etc. must be compatible with assistive technologies.
  2. Functional Requirements: in addition to technical coding, the entire system must be accessible to anyone with a disability.
  3. Support Requirements: support documents and alternative information is also accessible by people with disabilities.

If your projects don’t meet all three of the above requirements, it’s not legally compliant.

Meet Minimum Standards or Go Above and Beyond?

Remember to keep in mind that Section 508 compliance is the absolute minimum for making a document or website accessible to everyone. If you perceive yourself to be a conscientious designer, you’ll also want to ensure whatever you’re working on is easy to navigate and looks visually appealing, just as you would on any other design. Read the W3C® Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines for exceptional help on creating materials and web designs that meet internationally-accepted standards for accessibility.

Assessing and Remediating Documents to Meet Section 508 Accessibility Standards

Recent initiatives are bringing Section 508 accessibility compliance to the forefront in private business and government activity. These requirements also affect private industry contractors who work with federal government agencies. Companies in this arena must meet accessibility and Section 508 compliance standards for their products and offerings, including documents, reports, statements and more.

Image showing "Section 508 Compliant Documents by Braille Works" and the Adobe PDF logo

Elements of your documents such as paragraph structure, tables, charts, lists, etc., need to be properly organized and tagged to provide true accessibility and user friendly materials. This complex process cannot be properly done using automation products.  Don’t struggle through the complicated process of ensuring all your materials are accessible to those with disabilities. Instead, let Braille Works handle your 508 document repair and remediation.

Additional Resources:

Section 508 Requirement List

15 Halloween Safety Tips for Kids who are Blind or Have Low Vision

Treat Kids who are Blind or Visually Impaired to a Spooktacular Halloween with these 15 Safety TipsImage of Image of Halloween Pumpkin & Cauldron with Spider Webs in the Background

For most of us Halloween is a holiday filled with fantasy, fun and candy. Nevertheless there are some people out there who do not feel the same way, not even close. They try to make the October holiday memorable in a different way, a very wicked way. As parents we know it only takes a few seconds for something horrible to happen to children so never let them out of your sight on All Hallows’ Eve night.

Treat yourself to the following list of enchanting safety tips for Halloween. Based loosely off a list prepared by Prevent Blindness America in 2005, the tips are valuable for anyone but are geared more towards kids who are visually impaired or blind.

1) Stay away from costumes that include elaborate masks, eye patches, long-haired wigs or oversized hats. Such things are known to block or seriously obstruct ones vision. On the other hand, have at it if you’re completely blind.

2) In lieu of a freakishly scary mask, try wearing some bloodcurdling makeup or face paint. Kits can be purchased from specialty stores like Party City or just about any drugstore or supermarket. Unless your Mom is a real witch, you could also use her makeup if you want to save money. Just make sure it’s “hypo-allergenic” before applying it on your skin.

3) Be careful using eerie or enchanting fake eyelashes. These can be dreadfully irritating to your eyes if not applied correctly.

4) Grisly boots, princess slippers and any other shoes should fit you well so they don’t fall off in the fog on Halloween night.

5) Ensure all your costume elements are fire resistant. You can do this by checking tags or the costume packaging. Don’t take a match or lighter to it like a mindless mummy would.

6) Don’t be afraid while walking around your neighborhood in the mysterious moonlight of All Hallows’ Eve. Sport a bright and/or reflective costume so street traffic can easily see you.

7) If the thought of wearing a shockingly shiny costume petrifies you, you should at least try to pick a costume with a few reflective elements. You won’t be lit up like a jack-o’-lantern but at least others will be able to see you. A lot of people like to dress up as repulsive, terrifying creatures or zombies but don’t forget to keep safety in mind if you’re someone who prefers dark costumes.

8) If you have low vision but are not totally blind, bring a flashlight along with you to lighten walkways, sidewalks and staircases. You can also utilize the flashlight function or app on your smartphone if you prefer not to lug around a flashlight all night.

Image of a child in a superhero costume with a sword

Toy swords, scythes and lightsabers are popular accessories for a lot of children’s Halloween costumes but they can also cause harm to people’s eyes in the event of an accident.

9) Do you best to avoid pointed or sharp costume elements like swords, spear or lightsabers. I know these things are fake and usually made of plastic or Styrofoam but they can still cause harm to someone’s eyes if a bizarre accident occurs.

10) Younger ghouls and goblins should always trick-or-treat with one or more adults alongside. It’s better to be safe than sorry when you’re out during the one night a year when warlocks, monsters, werewolves and vampires rule the streets.

11) Tweens and teens are encouraged to troll neighborhoods in groups. Being in a group is safer and makes it less frightening if you’re approached by shadowy specters or worse yet, a spooky stranger who is walking the streets without a costume.

12) Observe and obey all traffic signals just as you would any other day. Whether you’re a princess, a pirate or something in-between; pedestrian safety is paramount on Halloween night.

Image of a spooky Halloween castle

Avoid spooky Halloween castles like this one or you might not ever make it back home to enjoy your treats

13) If you find yourself in a creepy or unfamiliar neighborhood, only stop at houses with bright porch lights or visible Halloween decorations. Kids who are blind should rely on sighted parents or friends to guide them to the right houses.

14) Bring a cauldron of common sense with you. Stay away from strange streets that are under construction, agonizing alleyways and horrifyingly heavy-traffic areas.

15) It can be a superhero-sized struggle not to eat candy right away but please give an honest effort to wait until you get home so grownups can scan your goodies first. Trust me; you don’t want to be the kid who is tricked by treats that are mixed with sharp objects, potions or some other hocus-pocus.

Most of all, be aware, take care and have fun! Pull some pranks too if you must. :)

Happy Halloween from all of us at Braille Works!

Undergoing Cataract Surgery to Correct Visual Impairments Can Help People Live Longer

According to an Australian cohort study published last month in Ophthelmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, people with cataract-related vision loss who have had cataract surgery to improve their sight are living longer than those with visual impairments who chose not to have the procedure.

Continue reading Undergoing Cataract Surgery to Correct Visual Impairments Can Help People Live Longer

Blindside Movie Review: Rush

Rush Movie Poster

Blind movie critic Jay Forry reviews the high-octane action film Rush, staring James Hunt & Daniel Druhl.

Continue reading Blindside Movie Review: Rush

Determination Radiates During National Disability Employment Awareness Month

2013 NDEAM Poster (English)

Currently, there are far too many adults with blindness or visual impairments who are fully capable of succeeding and thriving in the workplace but are unemployed or underemployed.

Continue reading Determination Radiates During National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Iowa Grants Gun Permits to People Who Are Blind

Iowa Grants Gun Permits to the Blind (Image Source: Bryon Houlgrave, The Des Moines Register)

DES MOINES, Iowa — There’s some surprising news coming out of Iowa this week, leaving some law enforcement officials and lawmakers befuddled. The “Hawkeye State” is granting gun-carry permits to [...]

Continue reading Iowa Grants Gun Permits to People Who Are Blind

Blind Success

Lou Fioritto, Co-Owner & VP of Braille Works

Lou Fioritto, the Vice President of Braille Works shares his story on how he became successful in business in spite of being blind. “Why should any “disability” cause someone not to be successful? I don’t accept negativity like that and [...]”

Continue reading Blind Success

Mobility Tips For People Who Are Blind

Walking with a White Cane

How do people who are blind get around on their own? Read some helpful tips on independent mobility skills for blind individuals from a fellow member of the blind community.

Continue reading Mobility Tips For People Who Are Blind

Blind Golfer Defending Title At National Championships

Golfers traveled to Oregon from all over the country to compete for this years title of “best blind or visually impaired golfer in the nation.” The defending champion has [...]

Continue reading Blind Golfer Defending Title At National Championships