Web Accessibility - Section 508 Guidelines and The CSU

When building out content on CSUB.edu, we have the responsibility (and requirement) to ensure that all of our content is accessible to everyone, including those with vision impairments. Often times, those who can not physically see our website rely on screen reading software or other assistive technology to relay the content to them. By simply completing a few additional steps, we can ensure that all of our visitors are able to find the information they need.

Below, you'll find an overview and ramifications of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In the coming months, The CSU will be adopting more stringent requirements, which will be outlined at a later time.

Section 508 Guidelines

(a) A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided (e.g., alt="image name").

Assistive technology cannot describe pictures, but can convey text information associated with a picture. When an image tells you to do something, such as move to the next page, or explains page content, associated text must describe the purpose and meaning of the image. This allows someone who cannot see the screen to understand the content and navigate the page. Not all images must have associated text. According to the standards, "The types of non-text elements requiring identification is limited to those images that provide information required for comprehension of content or to facilitate navigation."

When audio or video presentations are included, alternative text must also be provided. For audio clips this can be accomplished by providing a link to a transcript of the audio. For video, captioning must accompany the video clip.

(b) Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation shall be synchronized with the presentation.

This means, for example, that captioning for a video presentation must be real-time, synchronized with the presentation, not a transcript provided later. In the case of Webcasts, audio or video, real-time captioning would be necessary.

(c) Web pages shall be designed so that all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup.

This doesn't prevent the use of color, just color as the sole source of information. For example "Push the green button to start".

(d) Documents shall be organized so they are readable without requiring an associated style sheet.

Style sheets can be a wonderful boost to accessibility and use of them is not prohibited. However, pages created using style sheets must be read accurately by browsers which do not support style sheets.

(e) Redundant text links shall be provided for each active region of a server-side image map.

A "client-side" image map associates the destination URL with the image, which can be read by a screen reader. A "server-side" image map will only show the coordinates of the image. Thus, the destination must be provided some other way.

(f) Client-side image maps shall be provided instead of server-side image maps except where the regions cannot be defined with an available geometric shape.

Because of the difficulties listed in (e), client-side maps should be used wherever possible. In addition, it is important that alt text be used to describe the link.

(g) Row and column headers shall be identified for data tables. (h) Markup shall be used to associate data cells and header cells for data tables that have two or more logical levels of row or column headers.

These paragraphs do not prohibit the use of tables, but require that tables be coded correctly. In particular, the table summary attribute should be used to describe the table contents. If the table data is complex it may require the inclusion of an alternative form of the presentation. As noted in the standards, "the Board will be developing technical assistance materials on how tables can comply with this section."

(i) Frames shall be titled with text that facilitates frame identification and navigation.

We recommend that you do not use frames. Frames, however, can be accessible when used correctly and if the labels are clear. For example, don't label a frame "Left side" or "Center frame". Title them "Navigation bar" or "main content".

(j) Pages shall be designed to avoid causing the screen to flicker with a frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz.

Screen flicker refers to the use of blinking or flashing elements on a page. Until browsers provide users the ability to control flickering, the use of blinking or flashing elements should be avoided.

(k) A text-only page, with equivalent information or functionality, shall be provided to make a Web site comply with the provisions of this part, when compliance cannot be accomplished in any other way. The content of the text-only page shall be updated whenever the primary page changes.

If all other attempts to make a page accessible fail, an alternate page can be offered. It must contain the same information and be updated at the same time as the main page.

(l) When pages utilize scripting languages to display content, or to create interface elements, the information provided by the script shall be identified with functional text that can be read by assistive technology.

Scripts allow more work to be done by the user's computer, speeding up processing time and reducing the number of screen refreshes necessary. As described in the standards, "when authors do not put functional text within a script, a screen reader will often read the content of the script itself in a meaningless jumble of numbers and letters." If functional text cannot be provided, the information must be provided in another way, such as redundant text links.

(m) When a Web page requires that an applet, plug-in or other application be present on the client system to interpret page content, the page must provide a link to a plug-in or applet that complies with §1194.21(a) through (l).

When a Web page requires a plug-in or applet, such as RealAudio or PDF, they must provide a link to the plug-in/applet that meets the requirements. This requires Web page designers to make sure any plug-in/applet is accessible before requiring it to access the content on their page.

(n) When electronic forms are designed to be completed on-line, the form shall allow people using assistive technology to access the information, field elements, and functionality required for completion and submission of the form, including all directions and cues.

Forms on-line are wonderful, but the ability of a screen reader to read the form depends on how the form was designed. This rule requires designers to make sure their forms are accessible. If inaccessible scripts are used for a form, another method of completing the form must be provided.

(o) A method shall be provided that permits users to skip repetitive navigation links.

If the top of every page starts with a list of the same links, it gets tedious to hear it over and over.

(p) When a timed response is required, the user shall be alerted and given sufficient time to indicate more time is required.

Some pages require a response within a certain time, or log the user off if nothing is typed for a specified time. Some disabilities make it difficult to respond quickly. Therefore, users need to be notified that they are going to be logged off and given enough time to respond that more time is needed.