Section 508 Compliance Basics

Sharing buttons:

hi I'm Lindsay Kistner from next side

group for a technical and management

consulting company that does about 50%

of our work for the federal government

which means we spend a lot of time

creating 508 compliant documents this

basic tutorial will help you get started

when we talk about 508 compliance we're

talking about section 508 of the

Rehabilitation Act this requires federal

agencies to make all electronic

information including documents and PDFs

accessible to a person with disabilities

it also provides technical standards and

performance criteria to help guide

people and create an compliant documents

for most of us this means making our

documents compatible with assistive

technologies these are screen readers or

magnifiers that help people access the

document and if you're creating

documents for the federal government

either as a contractor or as an agency

your documents must be 508 compliant

here I've provided the technical

standards exactly as they're written in

the Rehabilitation Act these are the

guidelines to follow as you're creating

508 compliant documents but rather than

walking through each of these I've

created a number of steps that you can

follow to achieve these standards and

make your documents compliant

so 508 compliance boils down to two

things one is a good document structure

which means one that is laid out

logically that moves from headings to

text to exhibits in a logical fashion

which allows screen readers to read the

document in the right order the second

element is alternative text or alt text

for any information that's presented

visually so any graphs tables images

graphics or diagrams all have

alternative text that describes what the

visual is showing so that a reader can

understand it without ever actually

having to see it I've created eight

steps that help us break down the

technical standards and achieve and 508

compliance so the first step is your

document structure now when I was first

doing 508 compliance it was typically

handed a PDF in the final form and told

make this compliant but that's really

going backwards a good good practice for

508 compliance is to start from the

original source document and from the

setting up of the document structure so

first you'll want to use these Styles

tool in Microsoft Word which allows you

to structure your heading styles adding

one two and three and normal text which

is just your average paragraph block and

you can adjust those styles and then

highlight the text and click on that in

order to apply the styles so this means

not manually formatting each heading but

rather selecting the text applying a pre

pre outlined heading style so for each

of the default styles in there you can

also right-click the style and select

modify to change the default settings

for that style

step two is using automatic formatting

features rather than manually formatting

things like bullets and numbers columns

tables your documents headers and

footers the table of contents and

footnotes and endnotes word has

automatic features for all of these

things for example if you double double

click on the headers or footers it opens

up a box where you can format that for

every page rather than manually doing it

for each page tables can be inserted

rather than manually drawn there's a

columns feature rather than using spaces

or tabs to try to format your text so

all of these automatic features build in

the proper code for assistive

technologies to accurately read them

step3 is creating alternative text for

any graphic certain images that you have

in your document so first if you've

created a graphic in Word with multiple

elements you'll want to select all of

those elements and group them into one

image you're simply importing an image

from another program from a file it will

already be one image and second you will

right-click the graphic or image and

select size and alt text to open up an

alternative text text box here you'll

fill in the text that either describes

the image or replicates text in any


so let's get an idea of what your alt

text should look like for a photo it

should simply describe what's going on

in the image the figure graph that

conveys information that is that is not

conveyed in the surrounding text itself

needs to have a brief description in the

alt text box to convey that same

information similarly any graph that

uses a color to convey information like

a stacked bar graph must present those

actual figures in the alt text so that

those colors do not need to be seen in

order to understand what's being shown

and other best practices that in for

both text boxes and images setting the

figure in line with the text where

possible rather than wrapping the text

around the image helps screen readers to

read the document in the correct order

step 4 is to create clear well labeled

tables so as we've said before using the

tables feature on the insert tab will

help you in automatically insert the

correct table there's a couple things

about tables in particular first the top

row needs to be tagged as the header row

this means that that is the first row

that the screen reader will read it also

repeats a few table breaks across pages

so that you continue to understand what

each column or row is labeled as you

also want to avoid allowing rows to

break across pages so that information

in one row or locks

stays together so I provided the

information on the screen on how to do

each of these here you'll see if you

right click the table and select table

properties you can see both of those

dialog boxes to either allow the row to

break across the page which should be

unchecked and then for the first row

checking the designating the header row

fifth you want to add document

properties this is the title the author

the subject and any keywords into the

document go select the office button hit

prepare and properties to enter this

information the subject will simply be a

short description and each keyword

should be separated with a comma

six if you have a word version of 2010

or newer they've added a feature to

check accessibility within the word

document before you've exported it to a

PDF you can go to file info check for

issues and check accessibility and this

will provide you with a brief overview

of any accessibility issues that you can

correct in Word before you make it a PDF

now you're at the point where you want

to convert the document to a PDF it's

important that you convert using the

Acrobat tab within word not the print or

save function as this will not create

some of the accessibility code in the

document that's needed so you'll go to

the Acrobat tab select preferences and

match your settings to the setting on

the screen once you've selected the

right preferences you can hit create PDF

and then check your accessibility within

the PDF which adobe has created a great

tool to do both a quick check and a full

check to uncover any accessibility

issues that that you can then go back

into Word and correct before you read

PDF it so once you have your PDF you can

go to tools and accessibility and

perform your quick check or your full

check depending on which version you

have which will alert you to any of

those issues sometimes those can be

corrected within the Adobe software if

needed but it is much better practice to

actually correct the issue within your

word document and then repeat it if you

have the option to do a full check

within Adobe you'll want to change your

checking options to section 508 before

you start checking this way you're

checking the document against the

correct standards the full accessibility

check will find issues tell you exactly

where they are in the document and even

recommend some fixes but as I said

before if it reveals that you forgot alt

text somewhere for example or haven't

indicated that the header row and a

table your best bet is to go back to the

word document fix it there and then

movie PDF it that's it you've created a

508 compliant PDF document or Word

document thanks for listening and you

can find more 508 guidance on our

website at