508 compliance—it’s the hottest topic in eLearning! Okay, that might be a stretch, but creating accessible learning is worth talking about, especially if you are employed by—or creating eLearning for—a federal agency.
On January 18, 2017, the United States Access Board published a final rule that jointly updates requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communication Act. This rule updated the Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines in response to market trends and innovations and aligned Sections 508 and 255 with other standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission and with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Now, this might sound like old news, but the Access Board was nice and gave everyone a year to get used to these new standards. The rules go into effect today, January 18, 2018, which means it’s time to go over just what exactly these new 508 compliance rules are.
Major changes include:
- restructuring provisions by functionality instead of product type due to the increasingly multi-functional capabilities of ICT;
- incorporating the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 by reference and applying Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements to websites, as well as to non-web electronic documents and software;
- specifying the types of non-public facing electronic content that must comply (spoiler alert: this includes internal training content!);
- requiring that operating systems provide certain accessibility features;
- clarifying that software and operating systems must interoperate with assistive technology (such as screen magnification software and refreshable braille displays);
- addressing access for people with cognitive, language, and learning disabilities; and
- harmonizing the requirements with international standards.
eLearning developers will want to focus on the Functional Performance Criteria section. The functional performance criteria require that technologies with:
- visual modes also be usable with limited vision and without vision or color perception;
- audible modes also be usable with limited hearing and without hearing;
- speech-based modes for input, control, or operation also be usable without speech;
- manual operation modes also be usable with limited reach and strength and without fine motor control or simultaneous manual operations; and
- have features making its use simpler and easier for people with limited cognitive, language, and learning abilities.
This means videos need closed captions, making sure images have alt text, and so on.
If you’re freaking out about having to update all your previously compliant content, it’s okay! There’s a “safe harbor” clause for legacy content. As long as you don’t make any content changes to existing courses that already complied with the old 508 standards, you don’t have to update them to conform to the new standards.
Many eLearning and web developers are already following WCAG 2.0, so these new standards are not as overwhelming as it might seem. They’re really just helping us align our content development and reach more people with our content.
View the complete text of the new guidelines.
A great place to start adding more accessibility to your content is by adding closed captions to all your videos. Captions are required if you want to be 508-compliant. Watch our recorded webinar on how to use Camtasia to add closed captions to your videos.