Making Section 508 a Priority
By Cindy Ryan, New Editions Vice President
National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which lasts the month of October, will celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities and inform employers about the value of including employees with disabilities.
New Editions Consulting celebrates inclusivity and accessibility all year long. For example, our efforts on Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (requiring that all government digital content —apps, web pages, and electronic documents — be accessible to people with disabilities) includes working on government contracts to ensure that federal agencies are in conformance and teaching all of our employees to make their electronic information accessible to our disabled employees and our clients.
At New Editions, we know the whole spectrum of abilities, and that’s what makes us unique in supporting Section 508. We don’t just check the boxes, we consider the people who benefit. For example, I think about our work with a client for which we remediated training documents. After receiving the accessible training documents, a student who is blind and typically needs an assistant to help navigate inaccessible content was able to fully participate and complete the training unaided. With some simple modifications, he was able to have equal access and equal participation in the training.
Likewise, our experts enable websites to be as inclusive as possible for employees, agencies, and the public in general. To ensure this, we rely on a diverse community of resources, including our own team members with disabilities.
While the U.S. Census Bureau reports that nearly one in five people have a disability, a 2016 Pew Research study uncovered that Americans with disabilities are about three times more likely than those without a disability to say they never go online (23 percent compared to eight percent). At New Editions, we believe the internet can and should be a vital resource for people with and without disabilities.
I know that sounds good, but I also understand that evaluating an entire website and making it Section 508 conformant after it is built can seem overwhelming and costly. However, if organizations think about Section 508 conformance in a different way, at the beginning of development, it is easy to do and inexpensive. Think about how cybersecurity reigns as a top issue for many of us. I lead New Editions’ efforts regarding network security – so I recognize its significance. When we began really encountering cyber threats a decade ago, professionals reacted to the problem at hand. We worked to prevent that virus or attack from happening again. Now, as we become more knowledgeable about the risks that accompany greater networking and access, we are better at building more resilient networks.
That’s how we need to think about Section 508 conformance. Instead of waiting for a request or a lawsuit, government agencies will find that building accessibility into the information technology lifecycle from the beginning is much easier and more cost effective.
For developers, creating accessible content doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does require knowledge of what’s expected. For example, New Editions supports the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Accessible Systems & Technology’s (OAST) Trusted Tester Certification program, and we also manage the training and OAST certification. The program increases the capability and capacity of government, industry, and educational institutions to not only comply with Section 508 but to ensure valuable information is available to people with disabilities. The Trusted Tester process has gained acknowledgement among experts as a leading practice for Section 508 testing.
New Editions subject matter experts worked diligently with OAST, the Access Board, Social Security Administration, and other federal agency testers and developers to create a federally accepted baseline of testing outcomes. The new baseline is tool agnostic. The experts then created a test process detailing how to test with specific tools and evaluate the outcomes for Section 508 conformance. Standardized testing and reporting enables trusted testing outcomes to be easily shared among stakeholders and avoids repetitive (and costly) testing. Further, this increased shareability allows a wider catalog of applications and software to be tested without increasing resources.
A newly available, revised test process incorporates test material from previous versions along with Revised Section 508 standards and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines issued by the World Wide Web Consortium.
To find out more about the revised test process or what it means to be a Trusted Tester, visit https://www.dhs.gov/trusted-tester. To sign up for the new Trusted Tester training you can register at https://training.section508testing.net.