In January 2017, the U.S. federal government finally announced long-awaited regulations, dubbed the Secion 508 Refresh, that will for the first time outline a solid set of web accessibility standards for any organization it touches.
Starting in January 2018, if your organization receives funding from or provides services to the federal government, your website must be accessible to persons with disabilities.
The United States Access Board announced updates to national accessibility requirements beneath Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Websites that do business with the federal government in some way will have to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international standards organization of the Internet. WCAG 2.0 is the international standard for websites, and the basis of many international anti-discrimination laws.
A Wide Net Will be Cast
Until now, U.S. accessibility laws were not aligned with WCAG 2.0. These guidelines address users who may need assistive technology to go online due to disabilities pertaining to vision, color perception, cognition, hearing, manual dexterity and more.
In January 2018, everything changes. A wide net will be cast, and any organization that the federal government deems under the jurisdiction of the Section 508 Refresh will have to ensure their website is ‘Level AA’ complaint under WCAG 2.0. Those who are not compliant could be the target of the Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights, who will litigate under Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Finally, the government has acknowledged that web accessibly is not a technology issue, nor is it a funding issue. It’s a civil rights issue.
Who And What Is Affected
So whom does the Section 508 Refresh affect? It’s not been truly defined, but anyone is open to litigation. If an organization has any reason to do business with the federal government now or in the future, it may be safe to assume they fall under this new update. We are advising organizations to connect with any federal agencies they do business with if they are unsure of their position. Ultimately there are no excuses, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if your inaccessible website falls foul to regulation.
The Section 508 Refresh standards apply to all computer hardware and software, websites, and multimedia. Essentially anything posted onto your website must be accessible to users who need aids and assistive technology to go online. Each of these must comply with WCAG 2.0, which entail the most critical elements to making the user experience accessible. Text, images, video, forms, animations and more must be easily accessible to those with disabilities by incorporating header tags, alt attributes and other elements.
The Refresh Is An Opportunity, Not A Regulatory Burden
This announcement may draw ire from some corners and that’s understandable. Particularly for a small business, every penny counts and a new regulation may seem like just another bill. But this should be seen as an opportunity. One in five Americans have a disability and that number is growing as our population ages. So by opening up your website to this growing minority population, you are creating a larger audience for yourself. It also reduces the chance of future lost business – an inaccessible website may already be precluding you from business opportunities.
Creating new content with accessibility in mind or retrofitting existing content may seem overwhelming, but it is entirely doable. We have worked with many organizations of every shape and size that have all devised a strategy that works for them, within their budget and within a realistic timeframe.
Implementing improved web accessibility should not be a reaction to a letter from a lawyer or a regulator. Making a website more accessible to the millions of people around the world with disabilities is the right thing to do. So the time to act is now, not to avoid being penalized but rather to give people with disabilities equal access to your services as soon as possible.