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What Does Section 508 Compliance Mean for Your e-Learning Course?


Section 508 compliance is something you may have never heard about if you’re new to e-Learning. Or perhaps you’ve heard other e-Learning developers throwing around the word “accessibility” but never quite understood what they meant. Creating 508-compliant e-Learning courses has many benefits for your learners, so let’s take a look at the reasoning behind Section 508 and how you can make your online training accessible to all.

What is 508 Compliance?

Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act is a law that requires federal agencies and their contractors to make their electronic and information technology accessible to those with disabilities. It outlines the minimum acceptable standards, such as “the use of text labels or descriptors for graphics and certain format elements.” This section also addresses the usability of multimedia presentations, image maps, style sheets, scripting languages, applets and plug-ins and electronic forms. The purpose of Section 508 is 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.

For those people with certain types of disabilities, the traditional use of a Web site or e-Learning course is often difficult or impossible. Consider these statistics:

  • Over 285 million people in the world are visually impaired
  • Between one and nine percent of the population have movement-related disorders
  • Hearing loss affects about 10% of the global population to some degree
  • 15% of the U.S. population has learning-related disabilities

Since June 2001, Section 508 has required that all content created using federal money be 508 compliant. Industry best practices encourage even those not receiving federal funds or affiliated with a federal agency to ensure their online training is 508 compliant. Many e-Learning authoring tools, like Lectora e-Learning software, are built with functions that help you easily create engaging and interactive 508 compliant e-Learning courses.

Accessibility

Accessibility in the e-Learning industry is slightly broader than what Section 508 requires and is generally voluntary—although highly encouraged—on the part of instructional designers and e-Learning developers. “Accessibility” is about making your content easy to use for everyone, from a person with a severe vision or hearing disability to a person who wears glasses to a person with a physical disability.

An accessible e-Learning course allows a diverse range of people to access and use it comfortably and effectively. Everyone benefits from e-Learning that is easier to use with well thought out colors and clear language.

To promote the importance of accessible digital design, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) launched the Web Accessibility Initiative in 1997 endorsed by The White House and W3C members. This initiative provides some guidelines for accessibility and checklists you can use to grade your content. Keep in mind, these are not e-Learning-specific guidelines; they were initially created for web developers. However, the tools and standards developed by the W3C provide a good guide for all digital developers, including e-Learning developers and instructional designers. One feature in Lectora e-Learning authoring software which helps create 508 compliant courses is the 508 Compliance Check tool. This tool generates a list of any issues that need to be resolved in order to comply with 508 requirements before you publish your e-Learning course.

Design Tips for Creating 508 Compliant e-Learning Courses:

  • Animation and video can be used in your e-Learning course if you provide the text equivalent or closed captioning.
  • Anything not “Initially Visible” when the page loads will not be read by a screen reader.
  • Consider font sizing (which is built into most modern browsers now) for those who may need to see text at a larger size.
  • Be mindful of color contrast for those who are colorblind or have trouble determining different colors.
  • Use the alt attribute to describe each image.
  • Provide captioning and transcripts of audio as well as descriptions of any video.
  • Make sure that explanations of links make sense when read out of context. For example, avoid “click here.”
  • Ensure that your course is structured consistently.
  • Summarize graphs and charts where possible.
  • Provide alternate content for case scripts, applets and plug-ins that are inaccessible or unsupported.
  • Build frequent accessibility testing into your course development process—you don’t want to spend time on a course to discover at the very last minute that it’s not accessible.
  • Drop down menus are not accessible because the screen reader will interpret them as one object.

For more information about using Lectora e-Learning authoring tools to develop 508 compliant courses, download our how-to course, “Developing Accessible Content in Lectora.”