Accessibility focuses on how a disabled person accesses or benefits from a site, system or application. Accessibility is an important part of the designing your site and should be considered throughout the development process. Section 508 is the governing principle and it requires that all government information be accessible to disabled users.
Accessible sites present information through multiple sensory channels, such as sound and sight, and they allow for additional means of site navigation and interactivity beyond the typical point-and-click-interface: keyboard-based control and voice-based navigation. The combination of a multisensory approach and a multi-interactivity approach allows disabled users to access the same information as nondisabled users.
Value of Making Accessibility a Priority
By making your website accessible, you are ensuring that all of your potential users, including people with disabilities, have a decent user experience and are able to easily access your information. By implementing accessibility best practices, you are also improving the usability of the site for all users.
W3C notes that, “accessibility overlaps with other best practices such as mobile web design , device independence, multi-modal interaction, usability, design for older users , and search engine optimization (SEO). Case studies show that accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, and increased audience reach, among other benefits.”
Best Practices for Accessible Content
When creating digital content, make sure to consider the following:
- Do not rely on color as a navigational tool or as the sole way to differentiate items
- Images should include Alt text in the markup/code; complex images should have more extensive descriptions near the image (perhaps as a caption or descriptive summaries built right into a neighboring paragraph)
- Functionality should be accessible through mouse and keyboard and be tagged to worked with voice-control systems
- Provide transcripts for podcasts
- If you have a video on your site, you must provide visual access to the audio information through in-sync captioning
- Sites should have a skip navigation feature
- Consider 508 testing to assure your site is in compliance
Remember that providing a secondary channel to meet the Section 508 requirements does not guarantee that disabled users will have an equal and positive experience on your site. You must design your secondary channel with both audience and context in mind. In other words, the “secondary channel” doesn’t have to be treated as “secondary”.
References and Resources
For more information, visit:
- Understanding WCAG 2.0: A guide to understanding and implementing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
- W3C’s Accessibility section
- Universal Design for Web Applications by Wendy Chisholm & Matt May
For those developing government websites, consult your agency about available guidelines, training and 508 testing for your site. In addition, visit:
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act full text
- Access for People with Disabilities
- HHS Digital Communications Division’s Section 508 Resources
- accessibility features