Section 508 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Section 508 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

These are the standards created to make sites easier to use, and also easier to read, using assistive technologies such as JAWS, VoiceOver Utility on a MAC, or Windows Eyes reader for the visually impaired. It’s not required unless your site is a government site (.gov). However, creating your site to be compliant will serve your organization very well.

Approximately 20% of all users online have some type of visual or physical impairment that limits their ability to use a site (i.e., 10% of men are color blind). Setting up an accessible site makes your site easier to find via Google and other search engines. It is beneficial to all users because accessible sites are typically easier to use.


Section 508 Compliance requires that the following guidelines are followed:


Provide Alternative Text: Alternative text provides a textual replacement for images. Screen readers cannot do anything with images, but they can read the alternative text.


Provide Alternatives to Time-Based Media: Include captions or auditory descriptions.


Compatible: When pages use scripting languages to display content, the information provided by the script must also be available with functional text that can be read by assistive technologies.


Distinguishable Graphics: Use color combinations with sufficient contrast for color blind users, any information conveyed with color should also be available without color.


Frames: Frames must be titled with text to facilitate frame identification and navigation.


Give Users Enough Time to Read and Use Content: For timed responses, users should be given an opportunity to indicate they require more time.


Navigable: Users should be able to skip repetitive navigation links.


Seizures: Ensure your design does not include animations that could cause seizures.


Readable: Use clear and simple language that does not require an associated style sheet.


Text Links: Redundant text links must be provided for each active region of a server side image map.


Input Assistance: Provide guidance for forms and other input areas to ensure errors are not made.


Data Tables: Markup must be used to associate data cells and header cells for data tables that have two or more logical levels of row or column headers.


Image Maps: Client-side should be used versus server-side images.


Data Tables: Row and column headers shall be identified for tables.


Plug-Ins or Applets: If a plug-in or applet is required to interpret page content, a link to download the relevant  plug-in or applet is also required on the page which requires it.


Text-Only Version: A text-only version of a page must be provided if there is no other way of making a page compliant.


Q: What is WCAG? Is it the same as Section 508?

A: No, WCAG and Section 508 are different. WCAG is an acronym that stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines are published by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The goal of WCAG is to make web-based content more accessible to a wider variety of people. These guidelines are primarily intended for those with disabilities using assistive technologies, but also include all user agents (a “user agent” can be a web browser, a mobile phone, a screen reader etc.).



The most notable difference between WCAG and Section 508 is that WCAG is a set of “recommendations” for websites, while Section 508 is a law that applies to all Federal Agencies. Whether your site is a .gov site or not, it is a great idea to make sure your content is accessible for all.