About the Author
This short tutorial clears up the confusion about accessibility standards and helps you select the correct standard for your website, Word files, PDFs, and other digital content.
A prospective client asked if we cover WCAG in our accessible Word and PDF classes.
Well, we do, but it’s only a short overview when we’re teaching Word and PDFs. Here’s why.
The two standards are designed to complement each other and harmonize, but there are significant differences and similarities that are detailed below.
So we thoroughly cover WCAG in our web accessibility classes, and focus on PDF/UA in our document accessibility classes.
Number of tags available:
Who develops, approves, and publishes the standards:
A future blog will detail which tags are in which standard, but for now, here’s a short list of the tags most often confused.
Be careful. Just because a file uses pointy bracketed <tags> doesn’t mean that the tags are used for the same purpose, or that the same tags are used the same way by these different technologies. All markup languages use different sets of tags: XML, HTML, xHTML, PDF accessibility, IDTT, SGML, etc. Don’t make the mistake of confusing these very different markup languages and purposes, thinking that all pointy bracket <tags> are the same.
A <tag> is just a label encoded into the file. There are tag labels for HTML and others for PDF/UA. Some are the same, some aren’t.
And assistive technologies recognize only a small subset of any of these tag sets when reading, voicing, or presenting the content to those with disabilities.
This isn’t too confusing, is it? <grin>
That’s why we recommend taking specialized classes in how to make accessible content for your websites and for your Word, PowerPoint, and InDesign documents that will become PDFs.
Web accessibility isn’t the same as document accessibility. Similar, but not the same. (See our upcoming accessibility classes at http://www.pubcom.com/classes/calendar.php)
And I haven’t even mentioned EPUB accessibility, have I?! Wait, wait…that’s coming in another blog.
Sec. 508 is the US Federal regulation that mandates accessibility for all government ICT (information communications technology), which covers everything from websites and PDFs to emails, faxes, self-help kiosks at airports, cell phones, and many more technologies. The law is regulated by the US Access Board, a federal government agency, not an international nonprofit association like W3C and PDFA.
The law — Sec. 508 — covers much more than accessible websites and PDFs!
However, Sec. 508 doesn’t define any standards for accessibility — that’s done by the ISO and the international associations W3C and PDFA (see the previous sections of this blog).
Instead, Sec. 508 references the WCAG and PDF/UA international standards as the accessibility requirement for all US federal government ICT. This will take place in the forthcoming “Sec. 508 Refresh” in early 2017 when the US federal government formally adopts the International WCAG and PDF/UA standards.
[Author's note, January 6, 2017: The US Access Board (the federal government agency that regulates accessibility and Sec. 508) just announced it will be releasing the revised Sec. 508 requirements shortly. See https://twitter.com/AccessBoard/status/817120872473444354]
Many developed countries have already adopted the international standards, such as the United Kingdom, the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, and others, as well as the United Nations. (See http://www.powermapper.com/blog/government-accessibility-standards) In a way, the US will catch up to its worldwide colleagues in 2017.
At this time, Sec. 508 affects only federal government ICT, not state and local government ICT nor corporate ICT. However, many states have already adopted the federal Sec. 508 standards and eventually, all 50 states and territories will be under the regulation. In a few years, WCAG and PDF/UA will trickle down to the state and local governments, too.
Hope this helps you manage your organization's accessibility so that you meet the right standard for the right material.
PubCom has a full array of courses on Sec. 508 topics as well as traditional desktop publishing, digital media, and website development. We started offering accessibility training in 2001.
We’re committed to making documents accessible for the nearly 35% of our fellow citizens who have disabilities that make it difficult for them to use computer technologies.
We teach how to make your documents accessible.
We teach how to fish!
— Bevi Chagnon
CEO and Founder, PubCom
Note: This blog post was originally published in March 2011 and was updated as the Sec. 508 Refresh migrated from draft through multiple review cycles to the final published Rule in the US Federal Register in January 2017. This is the most recent version of this post.
These are my thoughts about how Sec. 508 affects publishing and the design of documents.