Accessibility in the Time of Coronavirus: The Need for Section 508 Compliance Testing

Need for Section 508 Compliance Testing

During such testing times of a global pandemic casting its dark shadows upon the world, one cannot help but think of the different ways in which it has affected the lives of people with special needs. With a drastic shift towards the digital domain for carrying out day-to-day activities, the need for making platforms accessible to one and all has grown leaps and bounds within such a short span of time.

From ordering grocery items to attending classes, everything has moved to the digital domain. This has simultaneously called for an exigency to make web and mobile platforms more accessible and user-friendly. Thus, firstly, the stepping stone towards achieving accessibility is to understand the significance and relevance of Section 508 Compliance Testing.

Being penned down as an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 508 brought with it a much needed change with the growing importance of the digital domain in the 1990s to safeguard people who are differently-abled. With a well-nigh reliance on the digital realm today, it becomes imperative for organisations to make their web content seamlessly accessible to everyone- to which Section 508 brings to the table a comprehensive set of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, with its latest 2.1 version or WCAG 2.1.

An extension to the 2008 WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1 offers a wider coverage of accessibility guidelines in making platforms more accessible to people suffering from cognitive, visual, hearing or motor disabilities. With its three basic levels of conformance- A (minimum level of accessibility), AA (key to common accessibility issues and an optimal standard to be followed) and AAA (highest level of accessibility standard), WCAG Compliance Testing becomes a go-to point for organisations to comply to such standards in order to make their web content Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust (or P.O.U.R.). With COVID-19, the situation is challenging for everyone.

However, for people suffering from low vision or blindness, hearing loss, or cognitive disabilities, it has become the need of the hour to make accessibility of web and mobile platforms a priority. For this, accessibility testing services become equally significant and need to go hand-in-hand. 

To make a platform seamlessly accessible, automation testing and manual testing are both viable ways, however, an amalgamated use of both would leverage the best possible results. A similar echo resonates with a paired testing approach, wherein a differently-abled tester and a subject matter expert (SME) of accessibility, work together for producing reliable results with a wider test coverage.

This helps, not just in striking out the common issues with the use of tools such as AXE, but also the latent ones which can only be brought to notice when a real-time user draws attention to it. Thus, an amalgamated approach of testing always presents a true picture with minimal bugs and drawbacks. This also points towards an amalgamated effort that needs to be performed at the side of development and the testing-end. Since Accessibility Development and QA goes hand-in-hand with testing, developers can fix bugs at an earlier stage or in retrospect to produce an efficacious result. 

With the pandemic as a gruesome reality today, citing an example of differently-abled students who are compelled to use an online mode of learning, can be seen as one of the many instances elucidating the need for compliance to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and to an extent to the WCAG and Section 508, in the case of public universities. The key points for education portals, for example, can be:

  • To make the academic curriculum accessible, including all the intricacies of study material, projects, assignment submissions, etc., 
  • To incorporate accessibility awareness activities, which should not only include the concept of making the domain of academia accessible but also, and most importantly, the availability and use of assistive technologies.

The need for assimilating such nuances within the educational domain, especially today and in India per se, becomes extremely important. Awareness about assistive technologies, for instance, is lacking in schools and universities, wherein students with impairment bear the tribulation of studying with ill-equipped tools and infrastructure as a whole. Although, adherence to such laws and guidelines has not been made mandatory in India but in the U.S., such non-conformance can attract a lawsuit against an organisation. It becomes needless to emphasize that adherence, mandatory or not, should be obliged by organisations all over the world to eradicate any form of discrimination and provide an accessible platform to each and every individual.

Section 508 Compliance Testing or WCAG Compliance Testing thus, ensures foolproof coverage, meeting the common and key criteria for making a web portal or a mobile application accessible. From text alts, audio-visual compatibility, keyboard functionalities, navigation, etc., to readability and compatibility, the formula of P.O.U.R. presents an extensive set of nuances that can be met with such conformance.

Since its inception and adoption in the W3C, such compliance has weaved a common thread globally for all international players to streamline and align their processes to an accepted standard. However, this does not go onto say that these guidelines are the gospel truth. Newer and more reliable versions become inevitable with the changing times and needs. WCAG 2.2 is already underway, of which the beta version has been released, and the complete guidelines are expected to be rolled out in November 2020.

Although, this pandemic has provided some food for thought to organisations in availing accessibility testing services for making their platforms more user-friendly, the significance of accessibility testing would always remain relevant- pandemic or not. In the quest of providing an equal digital space for everyone to access, the pertinence of accessibility testing and adherence to Section 508 and WCAG 2.1 would never simmer down. With QA InfoTech’s novel Accessibilitometer tool, extracting such a compliance score is feasible and easily achievable. Thus, now is the right time to spread awareness in the time of coronavirus; to understand the real significance of accessibility. 

About the Author

QA InfoTech

QA InfoTech

Established in 2003, with less than five testing experts, QA InfoTech has grown leaps and bounds with three QA Centers of Excellence globally; two of which are located in the hub of IT activity in India, Noida, and the other, our affiliate QA InfoTech Inc Michigan USA. In 2010 and 2011, QA InfoTech has been ranked in the top 100 places to work for in India.

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