Tuesday, February 24, 2015

508 Compliance and Content Management

Section 508 compliance seems tricky and confusing, but its implementation on content management systems is vital for many organizations. According to the United States Census Bureau, about one in five Americans are impaired with some sort of disability. That is a rather large number of people that you do not want to ignore.

All federal and state agencies of the U.S. government are required to meet section 508 standards for accessibility. This law was established in 1998 to require that all technology used by the federal government to be accessible to those with disabilities. This includes those with visual, audible, physical or cognitive impairment.

Assistive Technology

Those with disabilities often use assistive technology. This would include things like screen readers for the visually impaired user. Jaws and Microsoft Narrator are a couple of popular software titles that are used for these purposes.

The Standards of 508 Section

There were 16 standards developed to make information and technology accessible to users with disabilities. These standards are the core requirements to making your content section 508 compliant with the federal government. There is no one automated solution that will magically make your site compliant, unfortunately.

These days, it is still a mix of manual and automated processes that drive a site’s compliance. Below are the 16 standards. Sites must be accessible by keyboard only (without a mouse). All screens should be readable by screen readers that can also display alt tags and descriptions of images. Closed captioning should be available (or transcripts of audio/video). Online forms should be able to completed using assistive technology (or only the keyboard).

Good Tips for Usability

Good technology applies great user experience, user interaction and design principles. This is often referred to as UX/UI in the creative and IT industries. The two terms evolved from the guidance involved in usability principles, an area of expertise that has grown over several decades.

Good usability means the user is able to quickly perform a task with little to no difficulty. This often involves employing sensible and logical navigation, understandable required action items, well defined terms, clean design and smooth workflows. There are other options to consider that vary from project to project, but these are the most basic caveats to understand when dealing with usability as it pertains to section 508 compliance.

Software and Technology Function Essentials for Section 508

The software and technology fundamentals here are designed to make computing life a bit easier for those with a disability. Your CMS should follow these guidelines and tips. Remember that all things should be executable from the computer keyboard, without a mouse. Some people can’t use a mouse. This should include shortcuts, object/image manipulation and dropdown list operation to name a few on the computer keyboard side. StickyKeys, FilterKeys, MouseKeys and High Contrast are some useful functions for this.

Your organization should also maintain a well-defined on-screen solution for focusing. An indicator that moves with the other interface elements is the preferred method for your CMS. Assistive technology should help with focus controls.

Web browsing comes natural to most of us that can use all five senses, but someone with impairment will have trouble. That is why it is important to have sufficient information about the user interface, such as identity, operation and state of the elements, available to the assistive technology. An image that represents a program element (icons) should also display text to define that process. Meaning should also be consistent with icons or bitmap images that are used to define elements of an application.

Textual information should be provided through the operating system’s (OS) functionality for text display. Text content, text input caret location and text attributes are the minimum textual information that should be displayed in the CMS.

Display options also need to be tweaked for this with vision impairment. For example, applications should never override a user’s selected contrast levels or color selections on the screen. Display functions should accommodate those with a disability. When there is animation, it should also be available to users as non-animated content or information. The user should also be able to choose the presentation mode of this content prior to viewing or consuming it.

Organization is also key for some. For instance, for section 508 compliance in the CMS, it is important to label items clearly so they may be easily understood. Color coding or highlighting items should not be the sole way to handle the process of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response or distinguishing a visual element. A large range of color and contrast items also helps users stay organized with large loads of information that may need to be categorized and organized in a certain fashion within folders, directories, etc.

There are also some key elements to avoid. One good example is blinking or flashing elements. Not only can they be annoying and distracting, but they can also be problematic for the end user. The frequency should be somewhere between 2 Hz and 55 Hz.

Assistive technology should also be available to users who are filling out digital forms. It should be able to assist with accessing information, modifying information and submitting information.

Contextual information is also very important. Users with all five senses may take certain elements for granted, but these items should be accessible to those with disabilities too. Items in color should also be available without it, like markup or context clues for the user. Documents should be readable without a style sheet. Redundant text links should be there for each active region of a server-side image map (replacement of image elements with text elements). Table data should be clearly defined, including row or column headers. Even frames should be clearly defined as an element.

There are many other standards and compliance rules of thumb to follow. It is best to consult with an expert on maintaining section 508 compliance.

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