Tips for managing Section 508 testing

Compliance with the U.S. government's Section 508, which mandates IT accessibility for people with disabilities, isn't painless. But these tips can help you breeze through compliance testing.

Project managers, developers, and quality assurance staff who embark on testing the first Section 508-compliant Web development project are often breaking new ground. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 mandates that U.S. government agencies provide people with disabilities access to electronic and information technology. These tips will help you find the right testing methodology to ensure that your Web development project is Section 508 compliant and also meets your client requirements.

Tip 1: Review your contract requirements
It’s important that the project managers and team be fully briefed on the contract requirement set by the client for Section 508 compliancy. While it is often policy in many organizations to not disseminate business contracts outside the executive and business development groups, when it comes to Section 508 requirements documented in the contract, the development team should get direct access to documents that spell out the customer’s requirements for Section 508 compliancy.

Unfortunately, due to the complexity of Section 508 and the urgency of U.S. government agencies to implement the law, contract requirements pertaining to Section 508 need to be carefully followed. To ensure this, the original language in the contract or statement of work needs to be disseminated directly to the Section 508 project team.

Tip 2: Use automated testing tools
Automated testing tools are a popular way to assess Section 508 compliancy. These tools, which are compatible with major Web authoring tools, include:

These automated testing tools are just a sampling of what is available on the market for free or a fee.

In most cases, your contract or statement of work should spell out the tools you are to use for testing Section 508 compliancy. The Section 508 Web site is a good starting point to learn more about Section 508 products and services.

Tip 3: Use human testing
Human testing of a Section 508-compliant site is very important because you cannot rely solely on automated testing tools to validate Section 508 compliancy.

When conducting human-driven testing, it’s more than just an ad hoc internal validation and verification exercise to be run on the fly. Some tips for implementing human testing for Section 508 compliancy include:
  • Develop a test plan based on the Section 508 compliancy requirements outlined by your client. If your organization does not normally perform extensive tests for usability, be aware that those comprehensive tests will be required when assessing compliance with Section 508.
  • Take a focus group approach to human-driven usability testing whenever possible. While it is often most feasible to draw human testers from your internal corporate ranks, using human testers from the user community can help shed new light and perspectives on the true Section 508 compliancy of the project.
  • Use human testers with disabilities if possible. Access to such candidates for testing may be available via your client.
  • Document all feedback from outside the organization as it pertains to Section 508 compliancy.

Tip 4: Find the right mix of human and automated testing
A mix of human and automated testing of Section 508 compliancy is a best practice that offers checks and balances to ensure the project is compliant with Section 508. There may be some trial and error involved for your team to determine the appropriate mix of testing resources. While the contract or statement of work governing the contract may have specific requirements for the testing resources, this may not always be the case.

Note that automated testing tools are not a substitute for human testing, which may not always be accurate. But human testing can be managed through test plans that verify Section 508 compliancy.


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