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Section 508: More Than Just the Law

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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.

ACF 95.35%
ACL 95.29%
AHRQ 94.65%
CDC 97.41%
CMS 96.65%
FDA 92.85%
HRSA 94.10%
IHS 97.69%
NIH 97.00%
NIH/NCI 98.41%
(includes PRIORITY)
SAMHSA 99.23%

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.”

Are you having trouble accessing an HHS website because you have a disability?

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Your Ideas

Submitted by Cathy on
Thank you, my husband is disabled and we just found out that he has dimentia (which I may have spelt wrong). He received a settlement from workman's comp in 2010....in June of 2010 he officially received his disability...but only half until 2016...because of the settlement his income is below poverty level. I would like to know if there is anything we can do so he can receive his full disability amount (because the dimentia was just diagnosed.
Submitted by Chris on
Is healthcare.gov 508 compliant?
Submitted by Chris, Digital Communications Division/HHS on
Liz, We're very excited about the Access Board's adoption of WCAG 2.0 in the upcoming Section 508 refresh. One standard that we've already folded in at HHS relates to color contrast. We follow 1.4.3 Level AA: 4.5 to 1. We make that a required fix on all of our accessibility audits. And, one standard we've recently adopted as a recommended enhancement in our 508 audit reports (as opposed to a required fix) is adherence to audio contrast requirements (1.4.7 Level AAA: 20 db difference between background and foreground sound). There's lots of free programs that can help with accessibility testing. WebAIM is a great resource. Also, if you haven't visited HHS's 508 Web site (www.hhs.gov/web/508), you might want to check that site out, too: we have tutorials in a variety of formats that could be used as starting points for training.
Submitted by Liz Reese on
What defined and consistent criteria is available for WCAG v2.0 that can be provided in the training materials library for Web developers and accessibility specialists? How are you currently testing the newly proposed standards? [Name withheld for privacy]