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Section 508 Compliance Checklist for Websites and PDFs

Computer monitor and checklist

Summary: Here’s an overview to help you determine if you are required to comply with Section 508, along with a handy checklist for website developers and designers working with government digital properties.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that guarantees people with disabilities equal access to any programs and activities funded by federal agencies. Subsequent amendments to the Rehabilitation Act include Section 508, which states that all information and communication technology (ICT), including all digital information and communications, must be fully accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Because Section 508 is federal legislation, all federal government agencies, their contractors, and the organizations that work with them are legally required to comply with it. Section 508 also applies to any government agency that receives federal funding at a state, county, or municipality level. 

Here’s an overview to help you determine if you are required to comply with Section 508, along with a handy checklist for website developers and designers working with government digital properties. 

To be in compliance, all ICT and digital communications, including websites and PDFs, must meet accessibility standards, so let's start by looking at what technologies Section 508 covers.

Different technologies that Section 508 covers including form, PDF, internet browser, video, mobile phone, and email

What Technologies Does Section 508 Cover?

  • All content on public-facing web pages and sites
  • All printers, scanners, phones, and kiosks
  • All online forms
  • All internal and external emails
  • All software and applications, including mobile apps
  • All social media posts
  • All resources for online training
  • All sites, pages, and tools on an organization’s intranet
  • All job application sites and pages
  • All digital files, such as PDFs

Every document on your website should be fully accessible, including PDFs and Excel sheets, so that people with disabilities can easily navigate to these documents, browse the content using the keyboard, and access text by having it read aloud by a screen reader.

It’s important to remember that complying with Section 508 is not a once-and-done undertaking: every time online or digital content is added or updated, it should be reviewed to ensure that it meets Section 508 standards.

WCAG conformance levels

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Section 508 compliance

Previously, Section 508 listed specific accessibility criteria that organizations were required to follow for compliance. However, in 2018 the Section was updated to instruct organizations to follow Level A or Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the universal standard for accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Now, when organizations follow the WCAG technical requirements, they know they’ll be aligned with the global standard for accessibility and other standards for accessibility, such as Section 508.

While the W3C recommends following WCAG 2.1 for all new and updated content, remember that Section 508 is not static legislation: compliance standards change over time, reflecting developments in WCAG standards and evolving accessibility technology. Organizations must ensure that they are aware of these changes, and that their online content always complies with current Section 508 standards.

Start checking your content for Section 508 compliance using the checklist below. For more information, check out Section 508 requirements on the U.S. Access Board site.

Internet browser with magnifying glass and accessibility icon

Section 508 Compliance Checklist

  • Sync captioning and ensure audio and video files have transcript elements.
  • Ensure easy keyboard-friendly navigation throughout the website, app, or menu.
  • Every file and form should be accessible, fillable, and submittable, including documents and PDFs.
  • Include “Skip Navigation” options so users can sort and skip repetitive elements and get to main content quicker.
  • Avoid special characters that trigger encoding errors.
  • Reduce special effects applied to text and eliminate any flashing or blinking text sections.
  • Use image alt text for every graphic or visual element, such as image, diagram, and photo.
  • All links should stand out, be underlined, and provide descriptive hyperlink labels.
  • Use text and page background colors that have a significant level of brightness and contrast.
  • Ensure document structure includes semantic headings and a logical content structure.
  • Make sure web forms have a logical layout, instructions, required data formats, and labeled fields.
  • Test your website with online tools for different types of color blindness.
  • Keep page titles brief and descriptive so users can distinguish them from one another.
  • Make sure text is always easy to read and does not overlap, even when it is enlarged.
  • Set color contrast so text is easy to tell apart for users with vision impairments. Use an online color contrast checker to check your colors for accessibility.

Complete a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)

To determine whether their digital information and communications are fully accessible to people with disabilities, federal agencies, businesses that work with them, and government agencies (state, county, or municipal) that receive federal financial assistance can complete a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).

VPAT is a rigorous self-assessment tool that analyzes an organization’s products and content – including hardware, software, online content, and support documentation – for compliance with Section 508 standards.

The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), a global advocate for technology, has created four different versions of the VPAT. Each version has standards that correspond to different markets:

  • Revised Section 508 standards – the accessibility standard for U.S. government agencies and businesses that work with them.
  • EN 301 549 – the European accessibility standard for public procurement of ICT products and services.
  • WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
  • INT – incorporates all three of the standards listed above.

Starting Your Path to Section 508 Compliance

While using a checklist is a good first step, consider using an accessibility platform for ongoing Section 508 compliance. Learn about AudioEye’s hybrid platform, which combines intelligent, automated website accessibility software with certified accessibility experts and legal support. Learn how AudioEye’s solution works.

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