Mark this date on your calendar. On January 18, 2018, the U.S. Access Board, a federal agency that promotes equality for people with disabilities will issue a final rule that updates accessibility guidelines and standards covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. This includes accessibility guidelines and standards for communication and information technology.
What does this mean to website developers and designers?
You can make these legislative changes pay off for your career or development/design business. There's an increasing demand for experienced web developers and designers who can offer web accessibility auditing and remediation services.
Why learn web accessibility?
According to Dr. James Logan, quality assurance manager for Georgia Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Information Systems, "The web accessibility compliance auditor is a field that every computer science and information systems student should think of pursing. It really is just an extension of information systems. The field has so many opportunities for web developers." [SOURCE]
In order to assure that websites and web applications are accessible to and usable by everyone, Web designers and developers need to understand and follow the Section 508 law (29 U.S.C. § 794 (d)) that applies to all federal agencies and their vendors when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology.
"If you’re going to sell products or services to federal agencies or state schools, you have to be an accessible vendor," Logan says. "We test the compliance of an information and communication technology (ICT), test with the JAWS screen reader, a color contrast checker, and check if a PDF is accessible." [SOURCE]
WCAG 2.0 A, AA & AAA
It is also important to understand and know how to implement the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organization for the Internet. These guidelines are especially important to implement if you are creating websites that sell to consumers via a "public-facing" website. Just as the areas of a "brick and mortar" business need to be accessible, commercial website structure and content are also subject to ADA accessibility requirements. This includes page content, apps, pdfs, videos, podcasts and more.
Web accessibility is not just for government websites
Goodwill, smart business, and pending governmental regulation should compel organizations to make websites accessible to all potential customers.
If the websites you create or maintain are designed to generate revenue, obtain email addresses for newsletter subscriptions, and invite prospects to fill out forms, accessibility compliance is important.
Until now, website accessibility hasn’t been a big concern for most website developers and designers. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has put off rolling out official compliance guidelines concerning online accessibility for the disabled as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, waiting until it's the law may make the commercial websites you create legally vulnerable in the meantime if the websites aren’t in compliance, as organizations such as Winn Dixie, Chick-fil-A, Peapod, Target, Reebok, and the NBA have already found out.
The DOJ is urging businesses to follow voluntary Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG, version 2.0, rules that are expected to shape the ADA's website-access regulations in development. The guidelines address sensory issues, navigation, graphics, fonts, images, multi-media, coding and more. The guidelines urge website developers and designers to be aware of website features that may interfere with screen-reader technology and other assistive devices.
Take action now
If you are just hearing about website accessibility for the first time or you have determined that this is an issue that can help you bring better website development services to your clients, it’s not too late.
Your next steps:
1) Learn the Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 A, AA & AAA rules
2) Learn how to test your existing websites and create audit reports necessary to determine remediation plans.
3) Learn how to implement the changes necessary to make a website and its content accessible.
ABOUT MARY GILLEN: Mary Gillen is an experienced website developer, creating and maintaining responsive accessible websites for government, commercial and non-profit organizations since 1995. She is an experienced Website Accessibility Compliance Auditor, testing and remediating websites to meet Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 A, AA & AAA standards and guidelines.
She is also an experienced technical trainer, having taught 8500 students in classroom and online environments since 1995. Her latest instructor-lead 2-day online class Website Accessibility Auditor: Learn How to Test Websites for Accessibility helps website developers and designers get up to speed quickly on Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 A, AA & AAA standards and guidelines. Visit Mary's website at http://accessiblewebsiteservices.com or call her at 508-768-8418.