ICT Refresh: Updated 508 Compliance Regulations

Earlier this year, the US access board posted their proposed final rule for 508 compliance to the Federal Register. The new laws will have a major impact on what material must be accessible, and the success criteria for compliance. ICT (Information and Communication Technology) has evolved rapidly in the time since 508 regulations were first introduced. The refresh adopted by reference the compliance requirements of WCAG 2.0. The goal was to address previously vague areas of ICT compliance and update guidance for providing fully accessible content in the modern digital environment. To gain a better understanding of the impact of these changes, we explore in the following article our insights thus far.

Both Web and Non-web Content Must Comply

WCAG 2.0 was initially developed to provide guidance for web content and online media accessibility. Legally speaking, the application of these standards to non web content is stated by the following stipulation of the “Electronic Content” section of the final rule:

“E205.4.1 Word Substitution when Applying WCAG to Non-Web Documents. For non-Web documents, wherever the term “Web page” or “page” appears in WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements, the term “document” shall be substituted for the terms “Web page” and “page”. In addition, in Success Criterion in 1.4.2, the phrase “in a document” shall be substituted for the phrase “on a Web page”.”

What Electronic Content Must Comply with WCAG 2.0?

Specific guidance has been included to clarify what “public-facing” and internal electronic content must be made compliant. The following is taken directly from the official rule:

“The updated 508 Standards apply to a federal agency’s full range of public-facing content, including websites, documents and media, blog posts, and social media sites. The final rule also specifically lists the types of non-public-facing content that must comply. This includes electronic content used by a federal agency for official business to communicate: emergency notifications, initial or final decisions adjudicating administrative claims or proceedings, internal or external program or policy announcements, notices of benefits, program eligibility, employment opportunities or personnel actions, formal acknowledgements or receipts, questionnaires or surveys, templates or forms, educational or training materials, and web-based intranets.”

Quoted from – Overview of the final rule

Exceptions and Exclusions

There are a few exceptions to the electronic content mentioned above that do not have to comply  fully with WCAG 2.0.

“EXCEPTION: Records maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) pursuant to Federal recordkeeping statutes shall not be required to conform to the Revised 508 Standards unless public facing.

EXCEPTION: Non-Web documents shall not be required to conform to the following four WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria: 2.4.1 Bypass Blocks, 2.4.5 Multiple Ways, 3.2.3 Consistent Navigation, and 3.2.4 Consistent Identification.”

Quote from – The Text of the Final Rule

Compliance Alternatives – 508 Transcript

The WCAG 2.0 standards were developed to be flexible. This flexibility is intentional because the world of ICT changes rapidly. Word Wizards has developed an alternative method of providing video accessibility we call a 508 transcript. Specific references to such technology are included in the sucess criteria for section 1.2.3 (requiring audio description or alternative for pre-recorded media) and 1.2.5 (requiring audio description for live video).

The 508 transcript contains, in compliant PDF format, a text account of all visual and audio material within a media file. Known in WCAG 2.0 as a “media alternative.” This text based media alternative is specified as the only AAA sucess criteria withing section 1.2.8, arguably proving even better access to both persons with auditory and visual disability than audio description. Please note, a AAA criteria does not satisfy the previous A and AA requirements.

We know for certain, that specifically for talking head videos, a 508 transcript is a documented form of compliance with the new audio description requirements. However, we are further building a case, that under the stipulations of WCAG 2.0, a 508 transcript could be used under many circumstances to satisfy this requirement. If approved, 508 transcripts could save government producers countless hours, and taxpayer dollars.

Further Analysis is Needed

Because of the complicated nature of the ICT refresh and the sensitive legal implications of the changes, further study of the impact is required. Word Wizards is dedicated to decoding these regulations to help electronic content producers understand and comply. If you have further information about the refresh you think we should explore, or examples of alternative compliance methods you have identified, please leave us a comment or email.

Stay tuned for our next blog article on the subject, which will provide links and additional resources  for understanding the Refresh.