508 Compliance is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that outlines requirements Federal agencies must meet to make their electronic and information technology accessible for people with disabilities. However, since it was enacted in 1998, more and more non-Federal websites have begun implementing development changes to ensure their content is accessible by as many people as possible. This means developing with disabilities in mind and taking a few extra steps to ensure that every piece of content on a website can be understood by every visitor.
Alternative text, or alt text, is written content associated with an image that conveys the same essential information as the image itself. Alt text is incredibly valuable to both screen readers and the visually impaired as they allow an image’s content to be understood without needing to view the image. Have a look at the image embedded below for an idea of how valuable alt text can be. The image at the top of this blog post is not valuable to screenreaders or the visually impaired, but the same <img> tag below is, thanks to its alt text.
Elements on your website that require user input need to be optimized for visitors with disabilities. Without these accessibility optimizations some users will be unable to use key functions of your website including the checkout process, webforms, or membership registration. All user input elements need to have descriptive labels so that visitors browsing via assistive technology can understand and accurately complete the fields.
Hyperlinks are a major part of browsing the internet and finding information we are looking for. For most of us, this is as simple as mousing over a link and clicking through to its destination. Unfortunately, not every internet user can employ a mouse. Those with motor skill handicaps often use their keyboard to navigate across the web, and this means that hyperlinks on your website’s pages should be accessible without needing a mouse to point and click. These users jump between your webpage’s elements by using the tab key to navigate a page from top to bottom. By utilizing HTML’s tabindex attribute you can assist mouseless endusers by providing an easy to follow stepping stone structure. The tabindex attribute defines the order in which hyperlinks should be navigated when a visitor is using the Tab key to navigate through the website.
Web Accessibility and 508 Compliance best practices will continue to grow in importance as awareness around these issues grows. Every accessibility optimization skipped over by a developer prevents a subset of visitors from being able to reasonably interact with your website - reducing its impact.
The video included below articulates some important points about 508 Compliance and it helps us understand who benefits from these Web Accessibility optimizations.
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