Section 508 compliance refers to the standards that ensure accessibility for people with disabilities in electronic and information technology (EIT) created, procured, or used by the federal government. This includes e-learning materials such as online courses, multimedia presentations, and educational software.
The key rules for Section 508 compliance in e-learning are laid out in the Revised 508 Standards, which were updated in 2017 to align with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA. The standards cover a range of accessibility features such as providing alternatives to multimedia content, ensuring keyboard accessibility, and using a proper color contrast.
Compliance with Section 508 can be difficult, especially for organizations that are new to the standards or have a large amount of legacy content that needs to be updated. Some of the main stumbling blocks include:
Lack of awareness: Many organizations may not be aware of the need for Section 508 compliance, or may not understand the scope of the requirements.
Limited resources: Ensuring compliance can require a significant investment of time and resources, especially for organizations with limited budgets or staff.
Complexity: The Revised 508 Standards are highly detailed and can be complex to implement, especially for organizations that are not familiar with accessibility best practices.
Technical challenges: Some e-learning platforms and tools may not be fully compatible with assistive technology, making it difficult to ensure accessibility for all learners.
The biggest hurdles that organizations face when trying to achieve Section 508 compliance include:
Lack of expertise: Many organizations may not have staff with expertise in accessibility or e-learning design, making it difficult to ensure compliance.
Resistance to change: Some stakeholders may be resistant to changing established processes or investing in new tools or technology to ensure compliance.
Limited understanding of disability needs: Organizations may not fully understand the needs of learners with disabilities and how to ensure their access to e-learning content.
To achieve Section 508 compliance, organizations can take a number of steps, including conducting a comprehensive accessibility audit of existing e-learning content, providing training and resources to staff, and implementing accessibility best practices in the design and development of new content.
Resources for achieving Section 508 compliance in e-learning include the Accessibility Guidelines for Online Learning, the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, and the Section 508 Checklist for E-Learning. Additionally, organizations can work with accessibility consultants or vendors to ensure compliance.
In summary, Section 508 compliance is an important consideration for e-learning organizations that want to ensure accessibility for all learners. While compliance can be challenging, with the right resources and expertise, organizations can take steps to ensure that their e-learning content is accessible to learners with disabilities.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 (https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/)
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 508 (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/29/794d)
American Institutes for Research. (2016). Accessibility of e-Learning for Persons with Disabilities: Best Practices and Examples. (https://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/Accessibility-of-e-Learning-for-Persons-with-Disabilities-Best-Practices-and-Examples.pdf)
Center for Distributed Learning. (2021). Section 508 Compliance Checklist for E-Learning. (https://www.cdle.ucf.edu/support/resources/section-508-compliance-checklist-for-e-learning/)
Department of Education. (2018). Dear Colleague Letter: Accessibility of Electronic and Information Technology. (https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201810.pdf)
U.S. General Services Administration. (2021). How to Make Digital Content Accessible to People with Disabilities. (https://www.digital.gov/resources/how-to-make-digital-content-accessible-to-people-with-disabilities/)
University of Washington. (2021). Accessible Technology. (https://www.washington.edu/accessibility/accessible-technology/)