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Federal Standards Online Learning Accessibility

Several federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, involve accessibility and online learning. Federal agencies have required students’ rights to equal access and an equivalent experience to information on the Web and to educational technologies.

Section 508

In 1988, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 focused on eliminating barriers in information technology, making available new opportunities for people with disabilities, encouraging development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology.

Section 508 does NOT require private sector websites or organizations to comply with its standards unless they are receiving federal funds or under contract with a federal agency.

In practical terms, complying with Section 508 has become vital for those providing online learning content.

US Department of Education’s Requirements for Accessible Electronic and Information Technology Design

The Department of Education has established requirements for compliance with Section 508.

Web-based intranet and internet information and applications.

  1. A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided (e.g., via “alt”, “longdesc”, or in-element content).
  2. Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation shall be synchronized with the presentation.
  3. Web pages shall be designed so all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup.
  4. Documents shall be organized so they are readable without requiring an associated style sheet.
  5. Redundant text links shall be provided for each active region of a server-side image map.
  6. Client-side image maps shall be provided instead of server-side image maps, except where the regions cannot be defined with an available geometric shape.
  7. Row and column headers shall be identified for data tables.
  8. Markup shall be used to associate data cells and header cells for data tables that have two or more logical levels of row or column headers.
  9. Frames shall be titled with text that facilitates frame identification and navigation.
  10. Pages shall be designed to avoid causing the screen to flicker with a frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz.
  11. A text-only page, with equivalent information or functionality, shall be provided to make a web site comply with the provisions of this part, when compliance cannot be accomplished in any other way. The content of the text-only page shall be updated whenever the primary page changes.
  12. When pages utilize scripting languages to display content, or to create interface elements, the information provided by the script shall be identified with functional text that can be read by assistive technology.
  13. 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 or applet that complies with the requirements for software applications and operating systems listed above.
  14. When electronic forms are designed to be completed on-line, the form shall allow people using assistive technology to access the information, field elements, and functionality required for completion and submission of the form, including all directions and cues.
  15. A method shall be provided that permits users to skip repetitive navigation links.
  16. When a timed response is required, the user shall be alerted and given sufficient time to indicate that more time is required.

Recommended for you Accessibility Standards

Review Checkpoint

To test your understanding of the content presented.

1. True or False?

Students’ right to equal access and an equivalent experience to information on the Web is required by the federal government.Choose only one answer below.

a. True

Correct. Several federal laws, including the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, require that students with disabilities have equal access to electronic and information technology.

b. False

2. True or False?

All private sector websites and organizations are required to comply with Section 508 standards requiring information technology access for people with disabilities.Choose only one answer below.

a. True

b. False

Correct. This statement is false. Websites and organizations must comply with Section 508 standards only if they are receiving federal funds or are under contract with a federal agency.

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