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What are Website Accessibility Standards?

June 26, 2017

If your website is not accessible for individuals and employees with disabilities, you could be in trouble, especially if you’re a federal organization. Read more here.

Is your website accessible for individuals with disabilities? If the answer is no, you will want to modify your site before January 2018. The Section 508 Web Accessibility Standards are designed to make websites accessible to the public and employees with disabilities (also know as Digital ADA Compliance).

More about the standards

Section 508 standards are part of the Rehabilitation Act (established in 1973) and advise that when businesses develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, it must be accessible and user friendly for employees with disabilities (physical, sensory and cognitive). Employees who are disabled must have comparable access as those without disabilities, unless this would pose an undue burden on the business.

So, what businesses are required to have accessible websites?

It is becoming increasingly important for all businesses to be cognizant of website accessibility, but federal organizations and organizations whose sites are built with federal funding are required to maintain certain standards of accessibility. All other non-federally funded organizations (though there is no mandate) will want to adhere to the 508 standards because there has been an increasing amount of litigation around website accessibility in the private sector and it’s a trend that’s expected to continue. It’s also a best practice that improves the usability of any website and one Google is taking note of, and factoring into search rankings.

The standards stipulate that certain products must have certain functional capabilities so that they are user-friendly across the spectrum.


508 Standard Pass Fail
Web pages shall be designed so that all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup. Color is not used solely to convey important information. Color is the sole means of conveying information.
Sufficient contrast is provided. Contrast is poor.
When a timed response is required, the user shall be alerted and given sufficient time to indicate more time is required. The user has control over the timing of content changes. The user is required to react within limited time constraints.

Recent Updates

The Board revised the 508 Standards in January to guarantee accessibility across the spectrum of information and communication technologies (ICT) covered. Now that devices have a much wider set of capabilities than they did years ago, the new standards are focused more on device capabilities rather than just device “categories” (i.e. printers, handhelds, fax machines, telecommunication devices etc.)

Also, the Board hopes that the refresh will:

  • Improve ICT accessibility for people with disabilities;
  • Simplify the requirements so that they are easier to comprehend and follow;
  • Keep the requirements up to date according with technological updates; and
  • Make the requirements more uniform with other standards in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Bring the standards more in line with another standard, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

January 2018 Deadline

The deadline for federal organizations to be compliant with the updates is January 18th 2018, so your site might need developments to become compliant.

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