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

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.

PDF 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):

  • Visual impairments like blindness, color blindness
  • Auditory impairment
  • Learning disabilities
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Speech disabilities
  • Physical disabilities or anything that affects motor skills.

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 are the risks of having a website not complying with section 508?

Website accessibility applies to federal entities and their vendors. However, general accessibility standards are moving towards WCAG 2.0(Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) to meet the needs of its differently-abled users. Not being 508 compliant could lead organizations that receive federal funds to lose their funding along with other monetary penalties and legal exposure.

Whether or not federal regulations apply to your website, not adhering to the 508 compliance requirements can be grounds for a lawsuit. Making your designs and information 508 compliant should be a priority. It can help your organization meet the needs of all customers and make things easier for you in future business prospects.

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.
  • Operable – It must be easy to navigate for all users, including those who rely on assistive technology.
  • Understandable – People of all disabilities must understand it.
  • Robust – It should be accessible and adjustable to keep up with improving technology.

What technology has to be 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

What documents need to be 508 Compliant?

All digital communication needs to be section 508 compliant. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Websites and mobile applications
  • Software
  • Email
  • PDFs
  • MS Office documents
  • Educational or training materials

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.

Final Thoughts

Creating accessible documents helps your organization in many ways – 

  1. Making your content or website Section 508 compliant
  2. Improving readability by assistive technologies
  3. Reach a larger audience
  4. Establishing moral leadership
  5. Establishing an all-inclusive business strategy

One cannot emphasize the importance of PDF accessibility enough. Suppose PDFs are not correctly marked up for accessibility. In that case, people with disabilities may encounter navigational issues, resulting in non-compliance and heavy penalties. Apart from all other benefits, your organization should make documents accessible because ‘it is the right thing to do.’

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