Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that all federal agencies provide website and software accessibility to people with disabilities. When websites are 508 compliant, it is considered to be fully-accessible, because all people, whether they are with disabilities or without, can equally enjoy an excellent web user experience.
Complying with Section 508 entails the inclusion of assistive technology, such as screen readers, screen magnifiers and Text-to-Speech tools, to help people who are blind, deaf and have cognitive disabilities navigate through websites and access the information they are looking for easily and without difficulty.
All federal agencies and institutions, such as government agencies, public higher education institutions, federal-funded nonprofits and public K-12 schools in United States are required to comply with Section 508. This has enabled these agencies and institutions provide their users with disabilities, equal access to their websites.
Although your business website is not required by law to comply with Section 508 (unless your company has adopted Section 508 in its policy), creating a 508 compliance web design will generate more benefits to your business; it will not only give access to your target customers with disabilities, but it will also increase the visibility of your website in search engines.
Benefits of a 508 compliance web design
Attract a larger audience
508 Compliance web design is one that provides full and equal accessibility to all consumers despite their disability status. A website that does not comply with Section 508 will only attract customers without disabilities, while it drives away the web visitors with disabilities. Consequently, it will cost you the profit you might receive from your customers who are disabled. On the other hand, by complying with Section 508, you will be able to provide your customers, including those who are disabled, equal accessibility to your site; hence it will open up more opportunities for you to expand your clientele.
Increased website visibility
508 Compliance web design is a major way of climbing up search engine rankings, because Section 508 is a major SEO booster. Adhering to its guidelines entails creating a website design that is easy to navigate, straightforward and includes text-based versions of all audios and videos on the website. These alt-texts and transcripts will enable search engine crawlers to easily understand the content of your website and assign it the search result rank it deserves. Consequently, your 508 compliance website will be indexed accurately in search engines and will appear as a top result for the relevant search queries.
When you are creating a 508 compliance website design, you need to include keywords in your anchor text to indicate to the visitor the destination page. Likewise with your call-to-action buttons, you need to indicate what would happen when your visitor clicks the button; for example instead of merely saying ‘Click here’, the CTA button should say ‘Sign up for a free newsletter’. Doing so helps people who use assistive technology better understand where a link would take them or what would happen by clicking the CTA buttons on your website. These changes will ultimately contribute to increasing your conversions.
Better image for your business
Although you may hesitate to convert your website design to comply with Section 508 because of the effort involved, the benefits it generates should not be overlooked. A 508 compliance website design will help you provide an excellent user experience to your visitors with disabilities, it will increase the visibility of your site in search engines (hence building a strong online business presence) and it will encourage more web visitors to convert into customers. Eventually, all these benefits will reflect on the image of your business; you will be able to raise brand awareness and build brand authority among a larger target audience.
How to build a 508 compliance web design
Don’t use color to differentiate
While many people are familiar with the fact that red indicates ‘danger’ or ‘stop’ and green indicates ‘safe’ or ‘go’, those who are visually impaired, especially someone who is color blind, might not know to differentiate between the two colors. Therefore, instead of using colored symbols to differentiate, try to indicate with either a clear symbol or by text.
Descriptive text for buttons and links
When it comes to 508 compliance website design, more attention should be paid to making the site more user-friendly. In order to improve its usability, you need to include descriptive anchor texts and clearer CTA buttons. Including the keywords in anchor texts and providing clearer CTA buttons, will help your customers know what would happen by clicking them.
Use texts in navigational elements
Some websites use images to represent navigational cues which often results in accessibility and usability issues. Moreover, text readers will not be able to fully understand what the image may represent and would face a hard time navigating through the website. Hence, it is important to represent the navigational elements in text to increase the usability of the site.
Text based version for images
In a 508 compliance website design, it is important to include a descriptive alternative text when presenting an image. Likewise, with audios you need to transcribe the content, while with videos you should provide detailed captions. Such text-based alternatives will not only help screen readers, but they will also help improve the SEO results of your website.