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Section 508 Accessibility Compliance Guide

Section 508 is a piece of legislation that enforces government bodies, and those affiliated with them, to ensure their digital content is accessible to those living with disabilities.

As nearly one in five Americans have a disability that makes navigating the web a challenge.

But what does it entail, and how does it affect your website or content?

This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about 508 compliance, ensuring your website is accessible and inclusive for everyone.

Understanding Section 508: A Quick Overview

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is a set of established standards providing fair and equal access to information and communication technology (ICT) to people with disabilities. This involves websites and all its elements, including video and audio content.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, was passed in the early 1970s and was updated to meet the needs of the 21st century again in 2017. It's a significant piece of American legislation that is designed to enhance accessibility in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for people with disabilities.  

Essentially, the law mandates that all federal agencies' electronic and information technology should be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.

The law applies not only to federal agencies but also extends to any business that contracts with the federal government or receives federal grants or loans. It applies to tech used by federal employees, and tech used by members of the public who will be interacting with a government agency.

This has a profound impact on how these organizations design their websites, applications, and other ICTs, requiring them to take into consideration the variety of ways people with disabilities access and use technology.

The goal is to ensure that no one is denied access to information or services due to technology design restrictions. 508 compliance, in essence, is about inclusivity and equal access, aiming to bridge the digital divide for people with disabilities.

What Is The Rehabilitation Act?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a United States federal law focused on how the government can support, protect, and advocate for people with disabilities.

It was used to:

  • expand the authorization of state vocational rehabilitation services grants.
  • establish federal responsibility for research and training programs for individuals with disabilities.
  • assign certain government agencies to coordinate programs for people with disabilities.

However, when it was codified, this federal law did not specifically address accessibility issues for people with disabilities.

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 and is considered to be one of the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation for individuals with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and public accommodations.

Under the ADA, businesses are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees and customers with disabilities.  

In addition to offline activities, the ADA also applies to online interactions and transactions. This means that businesses must ensure their websites and other digital platforms are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Failure to do so could result in legal action, as seen in recent lawsuits against companies with inaccessible websites.

Overall, the ADA promotes equal access and inclusion for individuals with disabilities in all aspects of life, including technology. So it's crucial for businesses to understand and comply with.

The Importance of Section 508 Compliance in Digital Accessibility

Section 508 compliance plays a significant role in digital accessibility. It requires organizations to design their websites and applications in a way that accommodates various assistive technologies used by people with disabilities. This includes screen readers, speech recognition software, and alternative input devices.

508 compliance is an essential aspect of digital accessibility that helps bridge the digital divide and promote inclusivity. It ensures that everyone, regardless of their abilities, has the opportunity to access information and participate in the digital world.

As technology continues to advance, it is crucial for organizations to prioritize 508 compliance, as you can quickly breach these guidelines without knowing.

Compliance with Section 508 is not merely a matter of adhering to guidelines for the sake of inclusivity, but it also carries significant legal implications. Organizations that fail to ensure their digital platforms meet these accessibility standards expose themselves to potential lawsuits and legal liabilities.

This is due to non-compliance with the stipulated standards for digital accessibility, which could be perceived as discriminatory against individuals with disabilities. These legal actions can result in financial penalties, not to mention the harm to an organization's reputation, which can have long-lasting impacts.

It is of paramount importance for organizations to take Section 508 compliance seriously, not only for ethical reasons and to provide equal access to all users, but also to avoid the legal consequences of non-compliance.

What are the Consequences for Not Complying with Section 508?

Non-compliance with Section 508 can have severe consequences for organizations. Not only does it limit the access of people with disabilities to important information, but it also opens them up to legal action.

In recent years, there have been several high-profile lawsuits against organizations that failed to comply with Section 508. These lawsuits have resulted in costly settlements and negative publicity for the companies involved.

Two notable cases are:

●      Michael Leiterman vs Department of Homeland Security (DHS):

●      In this case, Leiterman, who is blind, filed a complaint against the DHS for accessibility problems with their system. The DHS was forced to reach a settlement and make its website compliant with Section 508.

●      The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) vs Harvard University and MIT.

●      The NAD has accused these institutions of violating Section 508 by not providing accurate and comprehensive captioning for online course materials. This case is still ongoing.

These lawsuits serve as a reminder to organizations of the importance of complying with Section 508 and making their digital content accessible for all individuals, regardless of disabilities.

Key Requirements for Section 508 Compliance

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act outlines specific requirements that must be met for federal agencies to ensure digital accessibility. These requirements also apply to businesses and organizations that receive federal funding or contracts, as well as those that offer products or services to the general public.

Some key requirements for Section 508 compliance include:

●      Providing text alternatives: This means providing alt text for images, transcripts for videos, and captions or subtitles for audio content.

●      Making web content accessible through assistive technologies: This includes ensuring compatibility with screen readers, text-to-speech software, and other assistive devices.

●      Designing accessible forms: Forms should be designed in a way that can be easily navigated and filled out by individuals using assistive technologies.

●      Ensuring color contrast: Colors used on websites should have sufficient contrast to be easily distinguishable for individuals with low vision.

●      Adhering to keyboard accessibility: Websites should be navigable and usable solely using a keyboard, without the need for a mouse or other pointing device.

These aspects must be followed in order to achieve 508 compliance. There are useful resources and solutions that can make achieving some aspects much simpler.

Captioning and subtitling services like those offered by Subly can be an important tool for achieving 508 compliance.

By providing accurate captions and subtitles for audio and video content, organizations can ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have equal access to information. Safeguarding them from legal repercussions.

How to Ensure 508 Accessibility Compliance?

Achieving 508 compliance is a crucial step towards creating an inclusive and accessible digital environment for all individuals, regardless of their abilities.  

In addition to utilizing tools and services such as Subly's captioning and subtitling, there are several other steps organizations can take to ensure they are meeting 508 compliance standards.

  1. Conduct an accessibility audit: The first step towards achieving 508 compliance is to conduct an accessibility audit of your digital content. This involves reviewing all elements of your website, documents, and multimedia to identify any potential barriers for individuals with disabilities. By conducting this audit, organizations can better understand their current accessibility levels and make necessary changes to meet 508 compliance standards.
  2. Seek guidance from accessibility experts: Organizations can seek guidance from accessibility experts or organizations that specialize in creating accessible digital content. These experts can provide valuable insights and recommendations on how to improve the overall accessibility of your digital content.
  3. Utilize assistive technology: Another important aspect of meeting 508 compliance is ensuring that the content is compatible with assistive technology such as screen readers, speech recognition software, and Braille displays. By making your content compatible with these technologies, you are providing individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to access and understand your digital content.
  4. Regularly review and update accessibility standards: As technology evolves, so do accessibility standards. It is crucial for organizations to regularly review and update their accessibility standards to ensure that their content remains compliant with the latest guidelines.
  5. Conduct user testing: User testing involves having individuals with disabilities test your digital content and providing feedback on its accessibility. This can help identify any potential barriers or issues that may have been missed during the initial audit.

By following these best practices, organizations can ensure that their digital content is 508 compliant and accessible to all individuals, regardless of their abilities. This not only helps to safeguard your organization from lawsuits but also demonstrates ethical business practices - a great asset to your organization.

Tools and Resources for Achieving 508 Compliance

There are several tools and resources available to assist organizations in achieving Section 508 compliance. These include:

  1. Automated accessibility testing tools: There are various software programs and online tools that can scan digital content for accessibility issues, such as missing alt tags on images or videos without captions.
  2. Assistive technology: This includes screen readers, magnifiers, and other devices that individuals with disabilities may use to access digital content.
  3. Accessibility courses and training: There are many online courses and training programs available that can educate organizations on accessibility best practices and how to create accessible digital content.
  4. Expert consultation services: Some organizations may choose to hire experts in digital accessibility to conduct audits and provide guidance on how to improve their compliance efforts.

One tool that stands out is Subly's subtitling and captioning solutions. This tool uses AI technology to automatically generate captions for videos and provide audio descriptions for visually impaired viewers. It also offers a subtitle editor to ensure accuracy and compliance with accessibility standards.

Through the utilization of innovative AI-driven tools, accessibility becomes much easier to achieve - ensuring your section 508 compliance is guaranteed.

How to Ensure Your Video is Compliant with Section 508

When creating videos, one of the goals is to make your content fully accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Creating content that is not accessible to people with disabilities means alienating billions of potential customers all around the world who have any kind of disability, whether physical, sensory, or cognitive.

The same goes for creating educational videos for training purposes - you cannot afford not to create videos that all of your employees can watch.

In order to provide an essential section 508 guide for testing video content, let’s first take a step back in history to learn how and why section 508 first came into place.

To conform to Section 508 and its WCAG 2.0 Level AA, your video must include the following elements:  

  1. Captions or subtitles
  2. Audio description
  3. Transcript
  4. Colour contrast
  5. Keyboard accessibility
  6. Video player accessibility

What Is WCAG 2.0?

This update formally adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as the standard for web accessibility compliance. It is a global standard for creating digital content accessible to people with disabilities (it’s also a legal requirement in the UK for both public and private sector organizations).

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines state that web content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. That means that all website creators must create content that:

  • can be accurately seen and read by all visitors
  • can be navigated simply and intuitively
  • features language understandable to all users
  • can be accessible and reliably interpreted by a wide variety of technological tools

To comply with Section 508, your content must reach WCAG 2.0 Level AA, the conformance level most commonly referenced in accessibility rules and regulations worldwide. Note that level A is the most elementary, and the level AAA most advanced form of conformance.

The question is: how can you find out if your video content is fully compliant with Section 508? Here is  a quick and concise Section 508 guide for testing video content.

Captions or Subtitles

Without captions or subtitles, your content will not be fully accessible to nearly 20% of the world’s population, which is over 1.5 billion people, according to the World Health Organization. So, the first step to ensuring that your video conforms to Section 508 is adding accurate and easy-to-read captions or subtitles.

You can check manually that pre-recorded or live video files have accurate captions that are synchronized and that clearly identify the speaker(s). You should also ensure that the sound on a video file does not autoplay.

Subly can help you by quickly and efficiently adding highly accurate AI-created subtitles or captions to your videos in over 30 languages and dialects and 99% accurate English subtitles and captions created by professional transcribers.

Audio Description

To fulfil Section 508 requirements, an audio description needs to be added to pre-recorded videos so that they can be fully accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired, which are estimated to number over 2 billion people worldwide.

To create a successful audio description, it’s recommended to use present tense, active voice, third-person narration, and a neutral style of delivery that can easily be differentiated from the voices in the video. Remain objective, present information without editorializing, and insert audio descriptions only in the gaps between the dialogue in the video.

Include only the essential elements of the video necessary to its understanding, such as actions, settings, scene changes, and other information that is not clearly understandable from dialogue or sound effects alone.


Transcripts are used to provide a text version of the audio-visual information presented in an online video for people with hearing impairments and/or people with visual impairments.

Section 508 requires the inclusion of both captions or subtitles, as well as transcripts, for your pre-recorded video content. While captions or subtitles are synchronized to the video, transcripts do not appear on the video itself but usually below it or on another web page.

Ideally, you should include the transcript in an HTML format on the same web page on which the video is featured (for example, in the video description section of a YouTube video). Alternatively, you can add a link below the video (or in the video description section) that will lead the viewer to the web page that features that transcript.

You can also use Subly to create video transcription through automatic speech recognition that will transcribe your audio content into text, subtitles, SRT, or VTT in a matter of minutes and will save you hours of content creation work.

Colour Contrast

There must be an appropriate colour contrast between the text and the background in your video content to ensure that the information in your video can be easily read by people with low vision, colour blindness, or other vision impairments. This is particularly important when it comes to your captions or subtitles.

According to WCAG guidelines, there should be at least a 4.5:1 contrast ratio between text and/or images and the background in your video content. If you’re using bold text over 14 pt or large text (18 pt or more), the contrast ratio should be at least a 3:1. However, note that these contrast restrictions do not apply to the logos and your business brand names.

Manually make sure that colour, sound, or shape are not exclusively used to convey critical information and that links in content stand out from surrounding text with a visual indicator such as an underline.

With Subly, you can also improve colour contrasts, as well as adjust the font weight and size of your captions and on-screen text to make sure that viewers with colour blindness can see and read them clearly against the background.

Keyboard Accessibility

Keyboard accessibility is critically important for users who may not be able to use a mouse to play, pause, stop, navigate a video backward and forward, or adjust its volume.

That’s why, to comply with Section 508, you must ensure that a viewer can rely on a keyboard alone to access all of the video’s elements and functions. That means depending entirely on Space, Enter, Tab, Shift & Tab, and cursor movement keys alone, without using the mouse.

Ensure that the visual indication of the current focus is always available, that the keyboard focus moves to and from all navigable page elements, and that all the browser and screen reader shortcut keys work and do not conflict with existing browser and screen reader shortcuts.

Video Player Accessibility

Finally, to comply with Section 508, the video player you choose must be able to support all of the previously mentioned elements.

Although YouTube is by far the most used platform for hosting videos, it’s not Section 508-compliant by default. Its auto-generated captions are insufficient to fully comply with Section 508 requirements, so you must either use a tool like Subly or manually review them to ensure they are correct and complete.

Compliance with Section 508 requirements allows video content creators to reach a much larger audience and improve its Search Engine Optimization (SEO) since search engines can use captions and transcripts to index video content more effectively, consequently improving their rankings.

What’s more, not complying with Section 508 can also result in potential lawsuits, loss of business, and damage to the reputation of a business.

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