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Section 508 Refresh and Website Accessibility

Northwoods Web SolutionsNorthwoods Web Solutions/Northwoods
3 min read

We tend to think of “accessibility” as making websites usable by people with disabilities. But think of it another way: Accessibility is making your website available to a wider range of abilities. This could include people who use your website only with a keyboard or a screen reader.

The concept of website accessibility has been around since the start of the internet. Remember “Bobby Approved” icons on websites? Bobby, vintage 1996, was one of the first free website accessibility evaluation tools. It tested websites against common accessibility standards created by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and the Section 508 Amendment of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

As technology evolved and accessibility standards evolved with it, other evaluation tools cropped up and Bobby disappeared.

Section 508 Refresh

In the United States, Section 508 is the sole regulation covering website accessibility. (Do note, though, that plaintiffs have based complaints and lawsuits on other, physical-world accessibility regulations when acting against organizations with inaccessible websites. But that’s a topic for another day.)

In 1998, Section 508 was added as an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act. It specifically required federal agencies to make their websites and online documents and other information accessible. The Act and Section 508 also apply to contract work done for federal agencies.

Section 508 had its own set of website accessibility standards. If you use accessibility evaluation tools, you often see these test options:

  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0, which is set up by WAI)
  • Section 508

Those options have become redundant. In January of 2017, Section 508 was refreshed to adopt WCAG 2.0, a worldwide standard developed separately from Section 508 and widely adopted. The Section 508/WCAG refresh applies to federal agency websites that are either newly created or being altered. Legacy websites using older Section 508 standards need not be updated.

How to make sure you are complying

Creating website accessibility requires creating a team and process. Maintaining website accessibility requires a team member who monitors regulations, standards, and the website.

Accessibility involves three main areas of a website:

  • Content
  • Visual Design
  • User Experience

The team should include:

  • An accessibility expert
  • User experience & visual designers
  • Developers
  • Content authors

The process should include:

  • Documentation of current baseline practices and the compliance process
  • Regular monitoring of the website
  • Continually educating the team
  • Regular monitoring of the website


Even in this brief outline, accessibility might appear to add quite a bit of cost and effort to website development, but a well-educated team makes quick work of it. Properly conceived and executed, accessibility becomes part of everyday work, not an extra for a perceived small percentage of the population.

The United States Centers for Disease Control estimates that 10-20% of the population is disabled. Do not ignore that rather large portion of the population. Design for accessibility from the beginning of a project yields benefits beyond serving the disabled. It tends to enhance user engagement, word of mouth advertising, and customer loyalty even as it reduces costly legal action and the need to add accessibility after the fact.

Look for future Northwoods blog posts on WCAG 2.0, other website accessibility regulations and the compliance process.

Northwoods Web SolutionsNorthwoods Web Solutions/Northwoods

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