Achieving Section 508 Compliance with Intelligent Automation

13 min read

Achieving Section 508 compliance with intelligent automation

Over 61 million Americans, one in four, have a disability that affects their normal daily activities. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has established guidelines for website and application accessibility. These Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are continually updated and outline how to remain compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Rio Global has developed the open-source accessibility tool Accessbot to help government agencies, educational institutions and other organizations utilize time-saving Section 508 compliance automation testing, which takes 10 seconds to determine compliance for 100 pages of content versus the average 3 months for manual testing. But accessibility isn't limited to these entities. Retail and service industries can preemptively create accessible websites, and Rio Global will help you obtain the accessibility icon that lets consumers know your company cares about equal access for everyone. Here we provide an overview of disability and accessibility issues, the requirements listed in the WCAG guidelines, the importance of preemptive conformity to the standard and how the Rio Global team and Accessbot make compliance easy.

Why accessibility is important

Where law requires barrier-free access to websites and applications, violations by published sites can lead to sizable remediation costs. Access to the site may be blocked and court cases that are not settled for years can damage a business. Where there is a disparity of accommodation, an organization's reputation can suffer negative consequences. Loss of business and boycotts could also result, creating a public relations (PR) nightmare that may not be defined in the playbook. Most importantly, a staggering number of people in the U.S. and around the globe will be left unable to enjoy the liberties afforded people without barriers to information in the digital age. Compliance shows that you care about your end user, your customer and the millions of people with varying degrees of disability.

Accessibility overview

The biggest problem with accessibility is the breadth of information that is affected and how to easily and effectively ensure compliance. A good solution should reduce labor hours while creating a vibrant website and application for users. The scope of disabilities that require 508 compliance is immense. With so many things to consider, it's difficult for development teams to try to complete the task alone. There are a few general areas used to classify the types of barriers that must be considered when creating content. This is not an all-inclusive list; there's more, which is another reason employing automated rather than manual testing makes sense.

  • Auditory. People with auditory disabilities may have partial or complete hearing loss that may affect one ear or both. They may or may not use assistive devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, and may or may not rely on sign language or lipreading. Barriers for deaf/hard-of-hearing people include:
    • Lack of written transcripts for audio and video clips. - Background noise that may make it difficult to understand all the content, such as if it contains dialogue and background music. - Media players that lack closed captioning or volume controls. - Lack of visible sign language interpretation to supplement difficult-to-read text such as conversations or to emphasize important information. - The use of voice command in apps and sites that do not offer non-audio options.
  • Cognitive, learning and neurological. This category includes people with learning disabilities, memory impairment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), multiple sclerosis and seizure disorder. This is not an exhaustive description of this category but should illustrate its complexity. A few examples of barriers include:
    • Pages that are difficult to navigate or have confusing layouts. - Use of unusual words and complex sentences. - Text-only sections that lack visual examples, including pictures, graphs or other content to break up the words. - Flashing, blinking or moving content or background audio that cannot be shut off. This includes any sounds or animation that browsers may utilize. - Pages that cannot be converted to different formats to overcome all the barriers to access.
  • Physical. People who have missing limbs; bone, joint and muscle disorders; reduced dexterity; and tremors or spasms must be considered for compliance also. Barriers for this group include:
  • Lack of keyboard support that forces people to use a mouse to click on items. Control boxes that have links with no keyboard option are a good example. - Imposed time limits to complete tasks like filling out forms or taking a test. - Navigation functions that are complex and inconsistent.
  • Speech. The lack of ability to cognitively understand speech or the inability to produce clear speech are barriers to effective communication if phone or voice is the only way to get help or communicate with someone.
  • Visual. Mild-to-moderate vision loss in one or both eyes, complete blindness or low vision affects the ability to view content. Color blindness makes it difficult to distinguish between color combinations or see images devoid of color. Here are a few barriers for those with visual difficulties:
    • Missing functionality to adjust screen size of font and video content. - Lack of audio content for text. - Lack of color contrast between background of site and color of text and video content. - Development of web pages that cannot be converted to custom color combinations with assistive devices. Keep in mind also that these categories may overlap. Individuals could have several barriers, requiring further assistance to gain access to content. As an example, someone may be hard of hearing and have color blindness, so transcripts of audio recordings must have contrasting colors that make them easy to read.

Section 508 compliance and the WCAG

Rio Global complies with the standards supplied by W3C for CSS, HTML 5 and XHTML along with the WCAG 2.0 and Section 508. When you partner with us, you gain access to expert disability consultants with powerful tools to make accessibility compliance easy. This includes the subsections of WCAG 2.0 and incorporates new versions as guidelines change and additional requirements are implemented. The simple overview ideology encompasses the need for uniform accessibility and equal access where integrations can be made. The WCAG uses the acronym P.O.U.R. (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust) to define what constitutes compliance for each area. Keep in mind that the goal is to create the same experience of using the website and app for every person, regardless of how the content is presented.

  • Perceivable. Provide text, captions and other alternatives for non-text content and multimedia and develop audio options for the text portions. You should also ensure that if an end-user is experiencing the content through assistive devices, the content transfer does not alter the meaning from the original intent. - Operable. The option for keyboard navigation is necessary, but it must also be accessible without a keyboard. Make sure content doesn't stream too fast or, if there are controls, adequate time to complete functions is given. Ensure user-friendly navigation and assistance to move throughout information. Refrain from including flashing or strobing content that could cause a seizure reaction. - Understandable. Use understandable language that is readable. Maintain consistency in how content is presented across all platforms and devices and allow for correction of errors or mistakes when interacting with data. - Robust. Guidelines will be updated and more assistive devices created, so you must be able to adjust as needed. This provides your development team with a broad example of the four areas defined by WCAG and the importance of each one.

Section 508 compliance testing as part of development

It may be tempting to allow development teams to create your ideal website and app content based on brand messaging, logos and aesthetics. However, ensuring compliance at the end of the development process is difficult for developers due to the breadth of disabilities and requirements for each P.O.U.R. category. Waiting until the content has already been created costs money and developer resources, essentially more than doubling the work required to complete a project. A best practice Technology Accessibility Playbook by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) outlines that, from planning to publication, it is much easier to incorporate the requirements at the beginning of the process. Don't worry if you are reading this and need to conduct compliance testing for existing sites and apps - that is why we created Accessbot automation. It's the perfect application for both scenarios. These are the steps you'll need to take:

  • Project planning. Identify how tools, hosting environments and enterprise architecture decisions potentially create barriers. Development teams should allocate funding and project time for WCAG compliance and others. The addition of a qualified accessibility consultant is beneficial from the start. - Requirements gathering and design. Define and identify areas where alternative adjustments need to be incorporated using standard rules and accessibility tools. Appropriate Section 508 guidelines should be included in the design process, including proof of concept and pilot design. - App and site development. Ensure your development team understands why compliance is important and the reasoning behind incorporation of inclusive access for all users. Utilize testing tools like Accessbot to simplify the testing process and save time. Keep in mind that it takes about 10 seconds to scan and identify issues across 100 pages with automation versus 3 months of manual planning. - Testing process. Ensure your testing process includes procedures and tools to track any shortcomings in accessibility as well as standard rules for how to fix the issue. This can be achieved with easy-to-use automated programming that allows custom or standard rule creation to scale the severity of the error, explain the code violation and offer suggestions for how to fix the issue. - Deployment. Verify functionality with a go-live. Although to this point care has been taken to continually test and fix issues, unforeseen problems can arise when publishing content outside of your organizational level. - Maintenance. Include a plan and platform that will grow and adapt as the guidelines change, technology improves and new assistive devices are created. Continued collaboration with accessibility consultants who have expertise in these changes helps maintain proper compliance.

How automation solves the problem of complexity

The Accessbot software easily integrates with content management systems (CMS) to scan and identify violations in compliance before publishing. The scan usually takes around 10 seconds to complete for approximately 100 pages of screened content. The dashboard and reporting produces a pair of graphs showing an overview of violations, separated by rule and severity, to give you a real-time picture of any compliance insufficiencies. The graph can be toggled between pie and chart types for preferred viewing and readability. The corresponding report separates each violation by URL and supplies specific information about the incident, with a total number of violations under each level of extremity. The violations are categorized according to these criteria:

  • Severity. This indicates whether a critical, major or minor violation has been identified. - Rule name. The system states what category the error falls under. - Issue description. The report describes the specific error that has been identified in the content and links it to the area of violation in the WCAG section or other parameter. - Remediation suggestion. A solution for fixing the barrier is provided and a drop-down page displays the exact element containing the error, making auto-remediation of the issue simple and easy. - Source. The report indicates whether the information was found within the main content or sub-content, further assisting remediation. Managing the rules for errors is easy with the user-friendly dashboard. Under the "More Options" function, the rule information can be edited for customization purposes or as requirements change. This section also fleshes out rule classes, where additional classes of violations can be added if any insufficiencies are noted or you need to create classes specific to your organization. Scripts for login credentials or other information are separate from the code source and rules element. This helps save time by providing the necessary information to access the violation point without manually hunting down passwords or other encryptions. The Accessbot web crawler tool allows you to schedule site scans and utilizes an application program interface (API) for tight, continuous integration; continuous delivery and deployment flows (CI/CD); and DevOps. This creates cohesive compliance assessment throughout all stages of development and testing that empowers you to create a compliant site or app before deployment.

Working with Rio Global

We have created a unique product that can be housed in the cloud for scalability or on-premises for versatility-whatever you need to keep your organization running efficiently. The open-source accessibility tool Accessbot provides free Google Chrome, Internet Explorer (IE) and other browser plugins, so your team can access it from most browsers for ease of use. Because we're an accessibility consulting company, you'll get more than just Section 508 compliance automation testing. You gain a partner who understands the importance of accessibility for end-users around the world. We will help you go beyond correcting accessibility issues with current websites to create an engaging experience. We work with you to create an easy onboarding plan that provides your organization with experts on disability compliance. We help educate staff and provide the latest updates to assistive devices and guidelines. We also strive to help sites remove barriers to access and create solutions that aren't just perfunctory, but relay your content's information as part of a rich narrative that supplies a user experience similar to that of the original content.

Rio Global services and benefits

We recognize the challenges organizations face in attempting to create accessible products. They lose access to a large population by failing to convert information into usable formats, and most teams lack expertise in accessibility evaluation methods (AEM). You receive many additional benefits when we work together to build websites and apps that are compatible with assistive technology tools:

  • Automated testing. These are some of the aspects of your website that we will evaluate:
    • Ensure alternative options are created to work as well as the original information. - Test all methods of access for harmony with all versions of website and app content. - The goal is to provide alternative access, so each barrier has a solution that provides the same level of performance with accommodations like point-and-click or keyboard access, text and audio editions, and adjustable sounds and images. - Extra device access could potentially lead to increased risk due to the method of entry. Testing for secure access with alternative login methods helps limit exposure to harmful threats. - Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Testing the tools you use to do business helps employees who require reasonable accommodations and end-users who access points of contact within the ERP.
  • Accessibility tools compatibility. We verify that devices like screen readers and braille keyboards function effectively on your site. As new equipment is created, testing is completed and the required adjustments are made.
  • Universal accessibility icon. Your organization will be eligible to advertise that your content is accessible, increasing the number of people you can reach. - Violation reports and remediation. One of the best features of Accessbot is the interactive dashboard and reporting functionality. As the platform is customized to your organization, the remediation of errors can be automated. This makes it easy for DevOps to fix issues and continue working on the project. - Patches. There will inevitably be some areas that are not defined in automated remediation. To address this issue, we provide patches for every undefined error you encounter. These issues can be incorporated into custom rules for future testing. - Audit reports. Accessbot provides audit reports and a history of testing and remediation so every violation encountered can be traced. This can be helpful if a glitch is identified post publishing or in future programming updates. - Color conversion tools. These special programming alterations change the contrast of light and color to assist with color blindness or low vision access. All these features are available along with Section 508 compliance automation testing with Accessbot.

Next steps toward Section 508 compliance

Hopefully this guide has shown that manual testing for Section 508 compliance extends the timeline of project completion and requires expertise most development teams don't have. The addition of an open-source accessibility tool like Accessbot creates integration within your CMS and throughout the project scope. You can see our short product demo recording here for an overview of Accessbot's simple but effective dashboard and reporting functions, not to mention the platform's testing speed, customizable rules and other benefits. You can also try Accessbot for free if you'd like to test it out yourself. We are here to help guide you through Section 508 and WCAG compliance. Contact us to learn more.