Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that content on federal websites be equally accessible to people with disabilities. It’s the law. Has been since 1998. But for too long, it’s been observed about as much as the 55 mph speed limit.
HHS is changing that. In 2008, we embarked on an ambitious 5-year mission to ensure that all Web sites and digital content across the Department would become accessible, compliant with Section 508, by May 31, 2013. No small challenge, what with over 2 million active web pages.
But we did it! Our Section 508 leader boards —always available to the public— today show compliance for every Operating Division to be above 90% with most above 95%.
The effort involved almost everyone. We started with a “508-101” dog and pony show, complete with live screen-reader demos; most people had never heard of Section 508. We had to build an extensive library of training materials. We acquired a specialized Web crawler that cycle through the Department’s active web pages to scan and identify possible Section 508 issues.
We scan all 2 million+ pages once a month, every month, and publish the results for everyone to see (public embarrassment is a powerful tool!). The crawler identifies both real and potential problems. The potential problems required manual evaluation. Countless hours of “issue management” supplemented the ongoing work of content remediation.
We worked with the Department’s Acquisitions Office to insert language in all contracts requiring the deliverables be Section 508 compliant so new content didn’t exacerbate the situation. We made sure that all videos are captioned, and that video players are fully accessible. We made our intranet accessible to all employees including those with disabilities. We even made sure that blast emails are compliant.
Credit is owed to the OpDiv Section 508 Officers, Coordinators, and Issue Managers—all of whom were central to ensuring their OpDiv’s success --and to our strong 508 Support Team.
HHS is now looking ahead to upcoming changes to Section 508 (the Section 508 Refresh), which will include the adoption of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) V2.0. In preparation for this Section 508 Refresh, we are all already testing to many of the newly proposed standards. We are aware that “compliance” alone does not ensure “accessibility”—things must be usable, and there must be defined, consistent criteria that help Web developers and accessibility specialists.
Why, you might ask, does HHS make content accessibility such a priority? Because this commitment is integral to our mission. We’re reminded of that mission every time we enter our headquarters; carved deep into the east wall of the building’s foyer is a quotation by Hubert Humphrey:
“The moral test of government,” he stated, “is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”