In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Inaccessible technology interferes with an individual's ability to obtain and use information quickly and easily.
Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. '794d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain or use electronic and information technology. We recommend that you review the laws and regulations to further your understanding about Section 508 and how you can support its implementation.
What Does Section 508 Mean for the jhsph.edu Website?
The design criteria for Web-based technology and information are based on access guidelines developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Many of these criteria were stipulated to ensure access for people with vision impairments who must rely on various assistive products to access computer-based information--for instance, screen readers that translate what's on a computer screen into automated audible output and refreshable Braille displays. Certain conventions, such as verbal tags or identification of graphics or format devices such as frames, are mandated so that these assistive devices can "read" the computer screen for the user efficiently. The standards do not prohibit the use of website graphics or animation, but they aim to ensure that such information is also available in a format accessible to people with vision impairments. Generally, this means using text labels or descriptors for graphics, along with certain format elements. (HTML code provides an Alt tag for graphics, which automatically provides a verbal descriptor for graphics. Site Executive users can also specify Alt tags. )
The standards apply to federal websites but not to private-sector websites (unless a site is provided under contract to a federal agency, in which case only that website or portion covered by the contract would have to comply). Accessible sites offer significant advantages that go beyond access. For example, those with "text only" options can be downloaded faster and can facilitate transmission of Web-based data to cell phones and personal digital assistants.
Section 508 guidelines require all federal government agencies to provide equal access to electronic and information technology, effective June 21, 2001. Enforcement of these guidelines has greatly raised industry-wide awareness of universal accessibility. Many state and county agencies are also requiring Section 508 compliance. Site Executive's newest release, version 2.5, embeds auto-generated links into pages to aid sight-impaired persons navigating content-intensive sites by means of a screen reader.
Three websites with more information about Section 508 and accessibility:
508 Site - www.section508.gov
Access Board - www.access-board.gov
W3C - www.w3c.org
The Web team has content writers and editors, a programmer, and a Web designer to help you with the process of building your site. A project request form can be accessed online at http://commprojects.jhsph.edu/communications.