Section 508 & Website Testing
For people with disabilities, access to government services and information is crucial. Make Section 508 testing a priority to maintain accessible ICT within your agency.
What are the Section 508 testing standards?
Reminder: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to federal agencies, private entities that receive public funding, and vendors that sell to the federal government. The law requires WCAG compliance for Information Communication Technology (ICT) at the 2.0 A and AA level plus 3 additional requirements from 36 CFR 1194 503.4 related to Synchronized Media.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the ICT Testing Baseline in 2009 to help standardize conformance testing within the federal government to increase the consistency of results and remove any ambiguity. The Baseline isn’t a requirement itself but a standardized process for federal agencies to follow. Essentially, these testing baselines work to get everyone on the same testing page. Hurray!
A quick overview of accessibility rules
If you give a list of technology agnostic accessibility requirements to 5 people and ask them to test a web page (or other ICT) for compliance with the requirements, you are very likely to get 5 different answers back if you have not explicitly defined a test process for each requirement. You want to know if your web page meets the accessibility requirements or not, right? Let’s dive into the rules that power these consistent, reliable testing results.
The W3C Accessibility Conformance Testing (ACT) group so kindly put together testing algorithms and defined rules for agencies to use when reviewing their web content. This group is chaired by Wilco Fiers, who happens to be a Deque employee!
The goal of the Accessibility Conformance Testing (ACT) task force is to “establish and document rules for testing the conformance of web content to accessibility standards, such as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).”
An example of these rules in action:
Axe-core is a reliable automated evaluation ruleset that Deque products are built on so that we are using the same algorithms to pass and fail accessibility tests.
Trusted Tester is a reliable manual evaluation based on the same set of rules and the work from ACT.
Section 508 Trusted Tester Version 5
Trusted Tester is a free DHS program that aligns with the ICT Testing Baseline to ensure credible manual (human) testing. The program combines teachable processes, training, and tools to standardize Section 508 testing across the board.
Before Trusted Tester, it really was the wild west of accessibility testing. There were inconsistent approaches and standards across government agencies—and even within teams. Once Trusted Tester was introduced, it became much easier to roll out repeatable processes, routine testing, and reliable reporting.
Training and certification in these skills—including 67 detailed manual tests!— signal to employers that you are qualified to participate in manual Section 508 compliance testing.
When someone says they are a trusted tester, you know that they can produce reliable results.”
— Allen Hoffman Accessibility Consultant
Where should my organization start with Section 508 testing?
If you’re not ready to become Trusted Tester certified, you still have a role (and an obligation) to test your content for WCAG 2.0 compliance at a minimum. Section508.Gov offers a collection of resources, including testing methods and tools.
Certain tools out there promise 100% Section 508 compliance at a low price just using automated scanning alone. Don’t be fooled by this false advertising. It is impossible today for automated testing to even detect all accessibility issues let alone fix all those issues. On average, automation is currently capable of detecting, on average, 57% of accessibility issues, and the majority of those issues cannot be magically fixed with generic one-size-fits all solutions. Just ask yourself: Are you ready for a self-driving car to come pick you up and drive you around? Think of accessibility testing and automation this way.
Section 508 accessibility testing includes a hybrid combination of manual and automated testing to deliver the best (and safest) results.
How to achieve sustainable accessibility with axe and Trusted Tester together
Step 1: Automated Testing
Tools powered by axe-core can automatically catch 57% of accessibility issues with virtually zero effort.
Step 2: Intelligent Guided Testing
Semi-automated testing in the axe DevTools browser extension can catch 80% of issues with the help of these guided tests.
Step 3: Trusted Tester
Experts performing manual testing can focus on the complex, hard to find or nuanced issues to supplement your automated coverage.