How can your organization ensure compliance with Section 508 digital accessibility standards?
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first U.S. law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. In 1998, Congress updated the act to add Section 508, which requires federal agencies (and by extension, federal contractors and all organizations that receive funding) to develop accessible information and communications technology (ICT).
Unlike some other non-discrimination laws — notably, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — Section 508 has technical standards for digital accessibility compliance. Those standards are essentially identical to the Level AA criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0.
To comply with Section 508, organizations need to test their digital content. That’s where the Trusted Tester program comes into play.
Trusted Tester Version 5: A Standard Approach for Testing Digital Accessibility
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Accessible Systems & Technology (OAST) created the Trusted Tester certification to establish consistent methods for accessibility testing.
The current program, Trusted Tester Version 5 (TTv5), serves several important purposes:
- TTv5 testers use a unified testing process using the same tools and reporting format.
- The results of TTv5 tests can be shared between departments and used for common applications.
- Testing content with the TTv5 process promotes a common understanding of 508 standards.
- By establishing a testing standard, TTv5 promotes the integration of Section 508 and WCAG into the product development and acquisition lifecycle.
Essentially, TTv5 testing is an attempt to standardize accessibility audits by establishing a common framework. The testing process is aligned with the best practices recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which publishes WCAG.
Related: What is a VPAT and How Is It Used?
Is TTv5 testing necessary for Section 508 compliance?
Organizations may meet Section 508 requirements without hiring a TTv5 tester. However, TTv5 standardizes the way that accessibility tests are performed and reported — and a TTv5 test may be useful for demonstrating compliance.
It’s important to remember that most websites are not accessible by default. In a 2022 analysis, non-profit organization WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) found that 96.8% of the top 1 million homepages on the internet have potential accessibility issues that could prevent conformance with the latest version of WCAG.
Every organization needs a strategy for digital compliance. To meet WCAG (and by extension, Section 508 standards), it’s important to test content regularly — and to use both manual and automated methods to find and fix the barriers that affect users with disabilities.
Earning a DHS Trusted Tester Certification
Unlike some other accessibility credentials, TTv5 certification is free. The OAST offers a self-enrollment portal with training materials, which must be completed prior to the Trusted Tester certification exam.
The training program includes the following lessons:
- FACA-ALL-049-B -What Is Section 508 and Why Is It Important
- DHSA-TT-100-A Section 508 Standards for Web
- DHSA-TT-150-A Trusted Tester Tools for Web on Windows
- DHSA-TT-200-A Trusted Tester - Training for Web on Windows
- DHSA-TT-201-A Trusted Tester - Practice Exam for Web on Windows
- DHSA-TT-202-A Trusted Tester - Certification Exam for Web on Windows
Training is self-paced, and the OAST estimates a total course duration of about 85 hours. After completing the coursework, applicants must score 90 or better on the Trusted Tester Certification Exam.
Earning a TTv5 certification requires commitment, but for accessibility professionals, the credential has substantial benefits. Trusted Testers can evaluate websites, PDFs, smartphone apps, and other types of ICT for compliance with Section 508 standards, then create reports that can be shared between government agencies.
Should private businesses hire a Section 508 Trusted Tester to evaluate accessibility?
TTv5 testing may not be appropriate for private businesses that do not work closely with government agencies. Most web content should follow the Level AA guidelines of the latest version of WCAG, which is currently WCAG 2.1 (with WCAG 2.2 expected for release in late 2022 or early 2023).
Since Section 508 incorporates WCAG 2.0, it doesn’t address some important accessibility barriers — and given that the goal of accessibility is to improve content for all users with disabilities, the best practice is to use the latest version of WCAG when evaluating web content.
Creating a Website Testing Strategy for Section 508 Compliance
TTv5 testing can help your organization improve compliance with Section 508 guidelines. However, if you don’t intend to keep a Trusted Tester on staff to evaluate all ICT, you may miss an opportunity: Accessibility is less time consuming and more effective when you make an organizational commitment to following the best practices.
In other words, a TTv5 tester can help you find and fix accessibility barriers, but no individual worker can ensure compliance. The best approach is to communicate the importance of inclusive design to every person in your organization.
And while Section 508 compliance follows WCAG 2.0, the W3C recommends following the latest version of WCAG. By testing content against WCAG 2.1 (and eventually, WCAG 2.2), you can remove more of the barriers that affect your real-life users. This has enormous benefits for every type of organization:
- Accessible content reaches a wider audience and provides a better experience to the 1 in 4 U.S. adults who live with a disability.
- Accessible content works better for all users, regardless of the technologies they use to access your website or mobile app.
- Accessibility improves brand sentiment and search engine optimization (SEO).
- Accessibility can help you hire and retain talented workers and establish an inclusive culture.
At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, our goal is to help our clients ensure the highest possible level of compliance with Section 508, the ADA, and other non-discrimination laws.
Through self-paced training courses, on-site training, and expert audits that combine manual testing with powerful automation, we can help you create a long-term strategy for WCAG conformance. Send us a message to learn more or get started with a free Section 508 compliance analysis.