Jake Intel

Veronique Morrison

Is That Accessible?

What Does it Mean to be Accessible?

Web site accessibility, from a legal standpoint, is about giving people who are disabled as easy access to information through web sites as anyone else. There are an estimated 54 million people, or 20 percent of the US population (one in five people), who fall under the legal definition of disabled. Basically, technology is accessible if people with disabilities can use it as effectively as by those without. This doesn’t mean blind users will have the same experience as a user who can see, but the process should be comparable.

Why be Accessible?

Its simple, your site should be accessible by everyone so that your brand and/or products are available to everyone. The legality of it shouldn’t be your main concern, but rather providing your company with the greatest chance of getting your product and message out. Wouldn’t your brand and online presence be stronger if it could be accessed by 100% of the population instead of 80%? The answer seems pretty simple.

Usability vs Accessibility

Usability and accessibility are similar and often confused, but they are not the same. The Electronic and Information Technology Access Advisory Committee (EITAAC) notes that accessibility is not beneficial if a product or service has significant usability problems.

Usability focuses on how intuitive and easy it is for all people to use, while accessibility is determined by how barrier free the technology is.

Accessibility Rules & Guidelines

There are various guidelines and standards for accessibility:

  • Section 508
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
    • Level A (Priority 1)
    • Level AA (Priority 2)
    • Level AAA (Priority 3)

This post will touch on the basics of the above-mentioned accessibility guidelines.

Section 508 – What is it?

The legislation referred to as “Section 508” is actually an amendment to the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. President Clinton signed it into law on August 7, 1998. Section 508 requires that all electronic and information technology developed or purchased by Federal Agencies be accessible by people with disabilities. There is nothing in section 508 that requires private web sites to comply unless they are receiving federal funds or under contract with a federal agency.

THE LAW: Rehabilitation Act of 1998 – Section 504, Section 508
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

The purpose of 508 is so that federal programs may not discriminate against those with disabilities based on their disability status. These programs include all government agencies, federally-funded projects, K-12 schools, and postsecondary entities.

In brief, there are 16 Federal Rules for 508 webpages:

  1. Text Tags: Provide text alternatives to non-text elements.
  2. Multimedia Presentations: Synchronize multimedia equivalents.
  3. Color: Make meaning independent of color.
  4. Readability: Make pages style-sheet independent.
  5. Server-Side Image Maps: Include redundant text links for server-side image maps.
  6. Client-Side Image Maps: Use client-side image maps when possible.
  7. Data Tables 1: Put row and column headers in data tables.
  8. Data Tables 2: Associate all data cells with header cells.
  9. Frames: Title all frames.
  10. Flicker Rate: Avoid screen flicker at harmful frequencies.
  11. Text-Only Alternatives: Provide and update equivalents for dynamic content.
  12. Scripts: Make the site script independent.
  13. Applets & Plug-Ins: Provide links to plug-ins or other required applications that can be used
    by assistive technology devices.
  14. Forms: Make electronic forms accessible via assistive technology.
  15. Navigation Links: Provide an option to skip repetitive links.
  16. Time: Give users sufficient time to complete tasks.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, is civil rights legislation governed by the Department of Justice. The goal of this law is to make sure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in programs, services, and activities. However, as the law was written before the Internet was a main force in our society, it was not originally included.

Should the ADA Require WCAG 2.0 Level AA Conformance? This question is constantly in debate. In fact, the ADA is considering requiring private industry to conform to web. If this passes, it is likely to affect a lot of Jake Group clients. For example, if a client were to offer a special online only, and the site is not accessible it could be considered discrimination.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

WCAG is the most useful set of accessibility “rules” have are not required by law, but strongly encouraged. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are put together by a group of volunteers striving to make websites usable by everyone.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 was published in May 1999, followed by WCAG 2.0 in December 2008. WCAG 2.0 applies to more advanced technologies, is easier to use and understand, and easier to test.

WCAG 2.0 has 12 guidelines that are organized under 4 principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Within each guideline, there are testable success criteria at three levels: A, AA, and AAA.


  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
  • Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia.
  • Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning.
  • Make it easier for users to see and hear content.


  • Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
  • Give users enough time to read and use content.
  • Do not use content that causes seizures.
  • Help users navigate and find content.


  • Make text readable and understandable.
  • Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.
  • Help users avoid and correct mistakes.


  • Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools.

For your site to be WCAG 2.0 compliant, it should pass all guidelines mentioned above.

Helpful Links & Resources