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Section 508 and Accessibility Best Practices

The Law: Section 508 and Accessibility

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to individuals with disabilities.

The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508, agencies must provide disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others.

Section 508 in Action

“I know a little more about the law, now how do I comply?” you might ask. When creating content, use built-in accessibility capabilities and keep in mind the following best practices!

Accessibility Best Practices

These best practices are applicable to all document formats:

  • A screenshot of a user adding alternative text to SmartArt in a PowerPoint.
    Adding alt text to SmartArt in PowerPoint.

    Include alternative text with all visuals and tables – Alt text helps people who can’t see the screen to understand what’s important in images and other visuals.

  • Add meaningful hyperlink text and ScreenTips – People who use screen readers sometimes scan lists of links; links should convey clear and accurate information about the link’s destination.
  • Ensure that color is not the only means of conveying information – People who are blind, have low vision, or are colorblind might miss out on the meaning conveyed by certain colors.
  • Use sufficient contrast for text and background colors – If your content has a high level of contrast between text and background, more people can see and use the content.
  • A screenshot of a user applying built-in heading styles to a title in a Word document.
    Applying built-in heading styles to a title in a Word document.

    Use built-in headings and styles – To preserve tab order and to make it easier for screen readers to read your documents, use a logical heading order and the built-in formatting tools.

  • Use a simple table structure, and specify column header information – Screen readers keep track of their location in a table by counting table cells. If a table is nested within another table or if a cell is merged or split, the screen reader loses count and can’t provide helpful information about the table after that point. Blank cells in a table could also mislead someone using a screen reader into thinking that there is nothing more in the table.

These additional best practices are tailored to specific document types:

Excel:

  • Give all sheet tabs unique names, and remove blank sheets – Screen readers read sheet names, which provide information about what is found on the worksheet, making it easier to understand the contents of a workbook and to navigate through it.

PowerPoint:

  • Give every slide a unique title, and check the reading order of slide contents – People who are blind, have low vision, or a reading disability rely on slide titles to navigate. A screen reader reads slide contents in a certain order, including the title, text, and alt text for shapes and table contents. It’s important to make sure that the slide contents are read in the order that you intend.
  • A screenshot of a user using the Font group in Word to change the font type, size, style, and color.
    Formatting the text of a title for accessibility.

    Use a larger font size (18pt or larger), sans serif fonts, and sufficient white space – For people who have dyslexia or have low vision, reduce the reading load. Avoid using all capital letters and excessive italics or underlines. Include ample white space between sentences and paragraphs.

Need Help?

Not sure how to implement these best practices into your work? If you need help, Microsoft Office has a series of blog pages for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that provide step-by-step instructions on how to follow each one.

Additional Resources

The Distance Learning Group has also compiled a list of relevant resources to help you make your content the most accessible it can be.

NPS Resources

Enable Accessibility (Inside NPS) – Enable Accessibility is the Inside NPS home for information on 504 and 508 overview information.

NPS Digital Community (Inside NPS) – The NPS Digital Community provides information which allows all of NPS to work together to create and maintain the NPS digital experience. This site hosts links to not only accessibility content, but also information on Social Media, Resource and How to Guides, and the Content Management System (CMS).

NPS Digital Accessibility (Inside NPS) – Provides an overview on what the “508 Refresh” means to us, those who develop products for distribution within the NPS system. This page provides examples, explanations, and links to other 508 Accessibility documents and sites.

NPS Digital Accessibility Resources and Guidance (Inside NPS) – Provides a high-level action plan to help you develop an accessibility plan. The Guidance Links provide additional accessibility details and address other issues.

Programmatic Guidelines for NPS Interpretive Media (Harpers Ferry Center for Media Services) – The Programmatic Accessibility Guidelines for National Park Service Interpretive Media is for National Park Service employees and contractors who develop and approve interpretive media. While targeted at interpretive media, there is a lot of crossover application to training.

Using SiteImprove (Inside NPS) – NPS.gov is using SiteImprove to scan PDFs and check their compliance with accessibility standards. Automated reports will help you identify what needs changed to help make your PDF documents accessible.

Other Resources

Making Documents Section 508 Compliant (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) – This site offers Checklists, Tip Sheets, and How to Guides for making Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe PDF files accessible.

Accessible Meetings, Events and Conferences (Mid-Atlantic ADA Center) – This site contains guidance to help make your gatherings accessible for all attendees. This is a good resource when planning a class or other gathering.

Color Contrast Checker (WebAIM) – This site allows you to select or enter a foreground and background color in RGB hexadecimal format and get a reading on the contrast ratio. The page evaluates the colors to see if they provide sufficient contrast for those with color blindness or low vision.

Color Blindness Checker (Color Oracle) – Color Oracle is a free color blindness simulator for Window, Mac and Linux. It takes the guesswork out of designing for color blindness by showing you in real time what people with common color vision impairments will see. This is a free download.

Reference Guides

Check out the set of Knowledge Park items which aggregate and provide all the relevant federal guidance, checklists, and testing information for creating and maintaining each of the following popular document formats: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF.*

*Note: the Knowledge Park items cover most software versions (2003-2010).

Training Opportunities

Explore the CLP training events catalog for opportunities to learn more about accessibility!

In the Commons

To continue the conversation or to just stay in the loop, there is a group entitled Accessibility and Section 508 Work Group in the Commons. This group will be updated periodically as new information and training is discovered.

Write a Review

  1. The Department of the Interior Section 508 Program is preparing guidance on accessible multimedia. During this process, the DOI Section 508 program is requesting feedback to ensure any guidance created meets the business needs of the department.

    NOTE: Multimedia is content that includes two or more media types such as video, audio, and animation. Examples of multimedia include, but are not limited to, videos, podcasts, webcasts and online training presentations.

    To provide feedback take the following survey: https://docs.google.com/a/nps.gov/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdMHrFPHULpSMKRlojKWEH14ZEOOp7E1mdn1lf0C05NOqvQfg/viewform?c=0&w=1

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