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Section 508 Web Accessibility and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)

Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 are both standards by which the web is made accessible to persons with disabilities. Section 508 is mandated by the federal government as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. Although the law applies only to federal agencies, its guidelines should ideally be followed by all websites. Additionally, WCAG was implemented in 1999 by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which was formed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to bring accessibility considerations into development. These two sets of rules and guidelines are very similar, and this guide will assist you in making your website compliant.

Here at Vanderbilt, the WCAG 2.0 standard is what we are striving to be in compliance with.

If you are interested in doing further reading on this topic, we have provided a list of sources and resources at the bottom of this guide. Digital Strategies can assist with helping you implement any of these requirements on your site.

  1. Your site must provide a text equivalent for every non-text element. This includes graphics, animations, scripts, buttons, sounds, audio and video. Vanderbilt’s OmniUpdate Content Management System requires users to do this when uploading images or multimedia. If your site is in WordPress, you must do this manually. We encourage users to think about the text they are using to describe the images they upload in order to make it as descriptive and informative as possible. The exception to this rule is if the non-text content is for decoration, visual formatting, or is invisible.
  2. If you are having a video uploaded to YouTube, please supply captions for the video. If the video is a longer lecture, there are some automated programs which can capture the audio for you and convert it to text. (Services we recommend: ScriptoSphere; SpeechMatics)
  3. Other examples of text identification include notifying the user when the natural language for a document’s text is changing (for example, if your website contains a paragraph in German, this should be noted).
  4. If you are working with tables, charts or graphs you must either identify the row and column headers, or provide a link to the raw data that is used for chart creation.
  5. If your page contains a lot of scripts or programmatic objects that will be unusable or not supported with certain accessibility programs, or your page is simply not accessible despite best efforts, consider having an alternative page that users can be directed to that is text only. (Please note, if you are using Vanderbilt templates, our scripts and tools are compatible. Otherwise, elements like this can include sliders, embedded tickers/moving graphics/interactive games or forms.)
  6. 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, applet or application. (eg: if you provide links to PDFs, Word Docs, Excel files – you should provide a link to the program that the user can download,  or else an alternative means of accessing equivalent content is provided.)
  7. Ensure that your page is accessible to those users with color-blindness. There are tools that will allow you to view your page as a color-blind user. Example here: Experience Color Blindness >>
  8. Beware of animations that flash; the guidelines call for nothing that flashes more than three times in any one second period. (An example of what not to do can be found here: Don’t Do This >>)
  9. When organizing content, make sure that page titles, section headings and links are clear (eg: if the link simply says “click here” it is unclear where the user will be going; if it reads “contact us” then the context is clear).
  10. If there is a form on your page, make sure that labels and instructions are clear and informative.

PDFs and other digital documents

Vanderbilt recommends delivering your content on a webpage. Websites are more accessible when compared to digital documents like PDFs, Word documents, PowerPoint, Excel and digital flipbooks.

If you must deliver your content through a PDF or other digital document, you must ensure it is accessible and compliant with Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 standards.

In order to make a PDF accessible, we advise the following remediation steps:

  1. Use an accessible color palette. Any text or graphic elements containing text are restricted to the following five colors and must be used on a white background.
    Dark Gray:

    Vanderbilt Gold
    The Vanderbilt gold can only be used as a background with black text, or you can use gold text on a black background. Gold can be used in graphical elements against white as long as it isn’t a text element.

    D8AB4CR:216 G:171 B:76
  2. Use a remediation service for tagging and alternate text. Users can add the necessary tagging and alternate text to charts, images, and graphics using Adobe Acrobat Pro.  However, depending on the complexity of the document, it could be more efficient to use the services of a professional remediation service.  One such company is Common Look.  (note: Vanderbilt University has no affiliation with Common Look or any other accessibility remediation service)


Additional resources for ensuring accessibility in specific platforms: