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Web Accessibility Explained for a Government Audience

With so many web accessibility terms floating around, what does your government need to know?

Web accessibility is a hot topic in government now, but it’s also a widely misunderstood topic. To supplement our Digital Accessibility Infographic for Government, we put together this post to explain key web accessibility terms and concepts as they relate to your government.

ADA vs. Section 508 vs. WCAG

The ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act) was signed in 1990 to prohibit disability-based discrimination against mental and physical medical conditions. ADA legislation mandates reasonable accommodations in the realm of employment, public entities (i.e. local and state government), public accommodations, and telecommunications. While the ADA mandates accessibility for disabled people broadly, it has come to encompass web accessibility.

Section 508 is a 1998 amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, designed to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 technical standards apply to software and operating systems, intranet and internets, computers, and other technology products used by federal agencies. As of January 2018, Section 508 requires federal agencies to adhere to WCAG 2.0 standards.

WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) was developed with the goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally. WCAG 2.0 was published on 11 December 2008, requiring web content to be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, to accommodate users with visual, hearing, mobility, cognitive, and language needs. In 2018, WCAG 2.1 was published, covering an even wider range of recommendations for making web content more accessible.

Which web accessibility regulations should I be following?

If you are a federal government:

Your web accessibility program is legally obligated to adhere to Section 508. Failure to conform can result in lawsuits and fines, as was famously illustrated in the 2013 lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, citing Section 508.

As of January 2018, Section 508 requires adherence to WCAG 2.0, specifically around making federal government websites accessible for people with hearing and sight disabilities using screen readers and other assistive technology.

If you are a state or local government:

Your accessibility program is legally obligated to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Title II of the ADA prohibits disability discrimination by all public entities (city, municipal, county, state, special district, school district), and includes discrimination due to inaccessible websites.

Since 2011, hundreds of local and state government entities have been sued on the grounds of having inaccessible websites. In settlements, governments are typically given 3-6 months to make improvements to the accessibility of web-based services and programs, in compliance with WCAG 2.0. You can be fined up to $75,000 for your first ADA violation and $150,000 for any subsequent violation.

While Section 508 applies to the Federal government, there may be implications for employees and others at the State level. To learn more about your State’s laws regarding accessibility and compliance, click here.

What's wrong with my website and what can I do about it?

The average government website hosts thousands of inaccessible PDFs, both static documents and interactive forms or applications. These PDFs are inaccessible in the sense that individuals who use screen readers and other assistive technologies cannot readily access the contents of these PDFs. A truly accessible government will need to transition all of these digital assets into compliant versions.

With static PDF documents, you have the option of creating an online version of the content, or remediating the PDF. A plethora of document remediation services can facilitate the process.

With PDF forms and applications, even remediated versions will often still require printing, faxing, delivering, and other prohibitive efforts. Citizens and government staff are increasingly looking for compliant solutions that allow these interactive processes to be completed and submitted online.

SeamlessGov is at the forefront of providing ADA, 508, and WCAG 2.1 compliant online services for all levels of government. Our form solution quickly and easily transforms your PDF forms and applications into accessible cloud-based versions, while digitizing and streamlining the end-to-end process.

Check out these 10 Must Haves for Accessible Online Services, which our form solution provides out of the box.

Want to learn more about best practices in accessibility and citizen engagement more broadly? Check out our new eBook, 10 Best Practices for Driving Constituent Engagement through Digital Services:


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