What Is Section 508? How to Make PDF Section 508 Compliant?

Graphical picture of Section 508 Compliance

Key Takeaways -

  1. Section 508 is enforced to make electronic government resources available to people with disabilities.
  2. Section 508 defines key areas that must be accessible – communications, hardware & software.
  3. Section 508 lays accessibility guidelines for design, video, navigation, text and pictures.
  4. Section 508 applies to Information Communication Technology of all federal agencies and the federal contractors who produce it.

Web Accessibility: Section 508 Compliance

No one likes to be left out. Being excluded is often described as a painful experience. And it can even happen with your business. So what do you do when a part of your customer base cannot experience your service as you intended? Section 508 Compliance ensures you make it ‘accessible’ to everyone by focusing on web accessibility.

Web accessibility aims to make all digital communications usable by everyone, especially those with disabilities and impairments. It ensures that all users have equal access to information.

What is Section 508 Compliance?

Section 508 compliance is a part of the Rehabilitation Act passed in 1973. This Federal Law states that all Information and Computer Technology must be accessible to people with disabilities. The law has undergone several amendments over the years, the most recent one being in 2018. This article explains how to create Section 508 Compliant PDFs. 

The guidelines do not only apply to federal agencies. They also impact any company doing business with a federal agency, including – private contractors, the financial industry, healthcare, many legal organizations, and other establishments.

What Is the Importance of 508 Compliance?

According to the CDC, disabilities affect more than one billion people worldwide. As technology rapidly advances, 508 compliance makes public services available and accessible to all people without discrimination. Being section 508 compliant ensures any content shared is easy to use, understand, and navigate for anybody with disabilities, including (but not limited to):

Section 508 compliance calls for an inclusive environment. With the help of assistive technology (equipment, devices, or software that help people with disabilities), no one is excluded from dynamic modern life.

Who Must Be Compliant with Section 508?

Section 508 is applied to all federal agencies and contractors and their vendors. Being 508 compliant is a must for government websites and information required by law.

Even if businesses don’t come under a federal agency, other laws such as Section 255 and ADA are applicable. Websites of any “public service” are expected to meet website accessibility standards. Failing to do so may lead to lawsuits.

What Technology and Digital Resources Need to Be 508 Compliant?

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is any system used to create, convert, duplicate or access information and data, such as:
  • Smartphones and mobile devices
  • Televisions
  • Internet and Intranet websites
  • Online training
  • Webinars and teleconferencing
  • Technical support call centers
  • Tablet, laptop, and desktop computers
  • Software and operating systems

Digital Resources and Documents:

All digital communication needs to be section 508 compliant. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:
  • Websites and mobile applications
  • PDFs , MS Office documents , Educational or training materials

What are the Section 508 Compliance standards?

All employees should have access to equal benefits, privileges, and information. Section 508 ensures that all federal information shared electronically should make necessary adjustments for employees with a disability. This is to help them apply for a job and perform the functions of a specific role.

A recent refresh of Section 508 in 2018 called for government websites to meet the guidelines of the WCAG 2.0 and create content focused on four principles:

  • Perceivable – It must be presented in a way that can be easily perceived.

 TermExplanation
1.1Text AlternativesMake sure all images and non-text content have descriptions so that people who use screen readers or other assistive technology can understand them. This includes providing descriptions for ensuring image accessibility and transcripts for audio content.
1.2Time-based MediaAdd captions or descriptions to videos and audio recordings, so people who are deaf or hard of hearing can follow along. Also, provide alternative formats for those who may have trouble accessing the content in its original format. Following this guideline is important to ensure audio and video accessibility.
1.3AdaptableCreate content that can adjust to different formats without losing its meaning or structure. This makes it easier for users to access the content on various devices and platforms according to their preferences.
1.4DistinguishableImprove content visibility by ensuring clear contrast between foreground and background elements. This helps users with visual impairments better distinguish between different parts of the content.

 

  • Operable – It must be easy to navigate for all users, including those who rely on assistive technology.

 TermExplanation
2.1Keyboard AccessibleEnsure all website features can be accessed and operated using only the keyboard, without needing specific timings for keystrokes. This is important for users who navigate websites without a mouse, like those with motor disabilities.
2.2Enough TimeGive users sufficient time to read and understand website content. Avoid automatic page refreshes or redirects that might disrupt users. Also, ensure interactive elements don’t time out too quickly, allowing users to complete tasks comfortably.
2.3SeizuresDesign website content to avoid flashing elements that could trigger seizures in users with photosensitive epilepsy. Limit flashing to no more than three times per second to reduce the risk of adverse reactions. This helps create a safer browsing environment for all users.
2.4NavigableMake it easy for users to move around the website by providing clear navigation menus, breadcrumbs, and page structures. Help users understand where they are on the site and how to find what they’re looking for. Ensure interactive elements are clearly labeled and structured for easy comprehension.
2.5Input Modalities (WCAG 2.1 & WCAG 2.2)Support various input methods beyond keyboards, such as touchscreens or voice commands, to enhance accessibility. This accommodates users with different abilities and preferences, making the website more inclusive and user-friendly.

 

  • Understandable – People of all disabilities must understand it.

 TermExplanation
3.1ReadableMake sure website content is easy to read and understand by using clear and simple language. This helps users grasp information without difficulty.
3.2PredictableDesign website content and layouts in a consistent and easy-to-follow manner, so users can navigate and interact with confidence. Consistent design helps users know what to expect, reducing confusion.
3.3Input AssistanceHelp users provide accurate information and avoid mistakes by giving clear instructions and implementing error prevention techniques. Provide helpful cues and feedback during form submissions to guide users and prevent errors.
3.3Input AssistanceHelp users provide accurate information and avoid mistakes by giving clear instructions and implementing error prevention techniques. Provide helpful cues and feedback during form submissions to guide users and prevent errors.

 

  • Robust – It should be accessible and adjustable to keep up with improving technology.

 

 TermExplanation
4.1CompatibleBuild a website that works well across various browsers, devices, and platforms, including assistive technologies. This ensures that users can access and use the website effectively regardless of the technology they are using.

How to Make PDF Section 508 Compliant?

PDF or Portable Document File is a versatile file format created by Adobe. Despite being the commonly used and exchanged document form, 508 compliance for PDFs is not initially accessible. And making a PDF 508 compliant is tricky. Following the 508 compliance checklists for PDFs, its content and back-end structure should be presented in a way that allows assistive technology to read them. This is done with the help of a section 508 compliance checker and remediation.

How to make a PDF 508 compliant? Choosing an expert in the field can make your digital accessibility a smooth process. First, you need to perform an audit through a 508 accessibility checker, after which implementing remediation is best done with a trusted PDF 508 compliance tool – like PREP.

PREP specializes in Section 508 compliance for documents. Having assisted companies across industries in implementing the proper compliance protocols to make their content accessible to everyone, PREP helps in creating 508 compliant PDFs through:

  • Cutting-edge AI-powered section 508 remediation software that makes the tedious process of tagging less time-consuming and accurate results with every review
  • Cost-saving and faster 508 document remediation
  • Cloud-based platform that is accessed anywhere, anytime
  • Human-centric design and easy-to-use software that anyone can learn quickly

The outcome? A first-rate section 508 PDF compliant with ADA regulations and WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines that help your business promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Your user experience and accessibility rates will improve, opening your business to new opportunities.

What Are the Risks of Not Complying With Section 508?

Federal agencies may face legal challenges for failing to comply with Section 508 regulations. Notably, agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Social Security Administration have encountered such issues. Penalties for non-compliance can be substantial, ranging from USD 55,000 for initial violations to USD 110,000 for subsequent ones.

In the private sector, not meeting Section 508 standards could harm existing contracts and mean missing out on new business opportunities. Companies need to ensure their digital offerings are accessible to everyone to avoid these risks.

Final Thoughts

Making sure your content is accessible offers several advantages for your organization. It helps you follow regulations, makes things easier to use for assistive technology, and lets you reach more people. It also shows you care about being inclusive.

Continual Engine’s solutions can be a helpful way to achieve accessibility. Their technology uses artificial intelligence to address accessibility issues in different formats, so everyone can use your content. This applies to documents, presentations, and anything else you create In the end, accessibility isn’t just about rules or reaching a bigger audience; it’s about being fair and making sure everyone has the same experience.

Editors:

Debangku Sarma

Digital Marketing Associate
Continual Engine

Vijayshree Vethantham

Senior Vice-President, Growth & Strategy
Continual Engine US LLC

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