professional lady wearing glasses looking at her computer screen

Avery Hymel

Section 508 Compliance for Documents: All You Need to Know

Article Outline

  • What does it mean to be 508 compliant?
  • History of Section 508
    • Once the driving force of many federal agencies; it affected any organization that accepted federal funding.
    • 508 Refresh brought new significance to 508 compliance and moved the U.S. requirements to at least WCAG 2.0 AA, so basically a 508-compliant document is just one that meets WCAG 2.0 AA.
    • Even if your organization is not directly required to follow Section 508 compliance requirements, almost every organization is subject to the ADA, and the ADA is being enforced by the DOJ much stricter than Section 508 was ever enforced.
      • 508 applies just to the federal government.
      • Government agencies, their websites, and all internal communication must be accessible.
      • Some organizations that work with or get funds from the government need to be compliant.
      • Check with Allyant’s CommonLook PDF Validator or CommonLook PDF.

Evolution of accessibility standards

Over time, accessibility standards have evolved to include requirements addressing the needs of electronic documents more effectively. New document elements have been introduced, grown more common, and, in some cases, now serve as staples in the PDF world.

For example, when the American Rehabilitation Act (ARA) was enacted, radio buttons in fillable forms were not nearly as common. Nowadays, however, a multiple-choice question can find its way into every questionnaire an organization publishes.

As a result, more modern accessibility standards include multiple checkpoints on proper forms management. This constant evolution is the primary motivator for updating, changing, or even creating accessibility standards!

Section 508 Compliance: Who needs to be 508 compliant?

If you are part of the U.S. federal government, you need to be Section 508 compliant. That means that agency websites and the vast majority of internal communications must be accessible.

Beyond federal agencies, this requirement includes all organizations that work with federal agencies or receive federal money in any way. The reach of this requirement cannot be understated.

Section 508 Refresh

In 2017, the Section 508 standard went through a refresh and was updated. The revised Section 508 incorporates, by reference, WCAG 2.0AA, and is the new, more modern requirement for federal agency accessibility. (WCAG stands for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, 2.0 is the version of the standard, and AA refers to the Success Criteria level that’s required. Please visit this link to learn more about WCAG 2.0.)

So, to be clear, when federal organizations are looking for Section 508 compliance, they are more accurately searching for WCAG 2.0AA compliance, the more updated version of the original 508 standard.

Does your organization need to be Section 508 and/or ADA compliant?

As an accessibility software and service provider, we at Allyant are often asked if compliance is required of a client’s organization. The short answer is always “yes.”

Even if an organization is not directly required to follow Section 508 compliance requirements, nearly every organization is subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA is separated into multiple titles, which collectively cover nearly all organizations, instilling this requirement of accessibility across the board. Titles I-III cover employment, public services, and public accommodations, respectively, making the reach of this WCAG 2.0 compliance requirement extensive.

The Department of Justice, the enforcers of the ADA, are even more strict with their protection and enforcement of accessibility, so compliance for organizations outside the U.S. federal government is even more critical.

How to check whether a document is Section 508 compliant?

With this focus on laws and requirements, the conversation quickly turns to checking documents. Specifically, groups want to know how to verify a document’s compliance.

Allyant’s software tools, some of which are free, offer all of the solutions you need.

The CommonLook PDF Validator is a free plugin for Adobe Acrobat. This tool allows a user to scan their document against specific standards, and of course, WCAG 2.0AA is one of the available choices!

PDF Validator is an effective testing tool, but if a user wants to fix issues and violations efficiently, CommonLook PDF is their best option. This paid, subscription-based software uses built-in automation tools, intuitive commands, and complete document control to make PDF remediation manageable. In addition, depending on an organization’s needs, other solutions are available, too.

For bulk document testing, CommonLook Clarity will check all PDFs in a domain all at once.

For bulk remediation, or fixing of the PDFs, we have solutions like CommonLook Artificial Intelligence, and we have several products available, too, to make sure your PDFs are accessible and 508 (or ADA) compliant upon creation, so you don’t have to go in, after the fact, and remediate them.