Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act is a law that requires federal agencies and their contractors to make their electronic and information technology accessible to those with disabilities. It outlines the minimum acceptable standards, such as “the use of text labels or descriptors for graphics and certain format elements.”
This section also addresses the usability of multimedia presentations, image maps, style sheets, scripting languages, applets and plug-ins and electronic forms.
508 compliant software helps to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.
For those people with certain types of disabilities, the traditional use of a Web site or eLearning course is often difficult or impossible. Consider these statistics:
- Over 285 million people in the world are visually impaired
- Between one and nine percent of the population have movement-related disorders
- Hearing loss affects about 10% of the global population to some degree
- 15% of the U.S. population has learning-related disabilities
Since June 2001, Section 508 has required that all content created using federal money be 508 compliant. Industry best practices encourage even those not receiving federal funds or affiliated with a federal agency to ensure their online training is 508 compliant.
Many eLearning authoring tools are built with functions that help you easily create engaging and interactive 508 compliant eLearning courses.
The eLearning industry is slightly broader than what Section 508 requires and is generally voluntary—although highly encouraged—on the part of instructional designers and eLearning developers. “Accessibility” is about making your content easy to use for everyone, from a person with a severe vision or hearing disability to a person who wears glasses to a person with a physical disability.
An accessible eLearning course allows a diverse range of people to access and use it comfortably and effectively. Everyone benefits from eLearning that is easier to use with well thought out colors and clear language.
To promote the importance of accessible digital design, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) launched the Web Accessibility Initiative in 1997 endorsed by The White House and W3C members. This initiative provides some guidelines for accessibility and checklists you can use to grade your content.
One feature eLearning authoring software which helps create 508 compliant courses is the 508 Compliance Check tool. This tool generates a list of any issues that need to be resolved in order to comply with 508 requirements before you publish your eLearning course.
Design Tips for Creating 508 Compliant eLearning Courses:
- Animation and video can be used in your eLearning course if you provide the text equivalent or closed captioning.
- Anything not “Initially Visible” when the page loads will not be read by a screen reader.
- Consider font sizing (which is built into most modern browsers now) for those who may need to see text at a larger size.
- Be mindful of color contrast for those who are colorblind or have trouble determining different colors.
- Use the alt attribute to describe each image.
- Provide captioning and transcripts of audio as well as descriptions of any video.
- Make sure that explanations of links make sense when read out of context. For example, avoid “click here.”
- Ensure that your course is structured consistently.
- Summarize graphs and charts where possible.
- Provide alternate content for case scripts, applets and plug-ins that are inaccessible or unsupported.
- Build frequent accessibility testing into your course development process—you don’t want to spend time on a course to discover at the very last minute that it’s not accessible.
- Drop down menus are not accessible because the screen reader will interpret them as one object.
Section 508 compliance in eLearning requires the course content to be built in a way that it becomes easily readable to those with reading disabilities. The main motive is to eliminate barriers in information technology. It enables availability of new opportunities to people with disabilities, while using LMS to help such people achieve their goals.